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Flood Risk to Business: What Do You Do First?

Flood Risk to Business: What Do You Do First?

As I’m sure we’ve all experienced the past few weeks across Britain, it’s not only affecting homes, but thousands of businesses too! The least affected by these floods have had staff that are unable to get to work, and the worst have had stock completely submerged, expensive equipment damaged, and premises ruined.

Will the Flooding Affect my Business?

So how do you know if your commercial property is going to be affected by the flooding? Even if the worst of it has past, it’s more than guaranteed to reoccur at some point in future years. Should you be preparing now in anticipation? It may be too late for some to establish flood risk, however you can assess whether your home or business may be vulnerable by visiting the Environment Agency website where you can enter your postcode and view the local flood risk map. Make sure you don’t rely solely on this map because it doesn’t necessarily take into account any type of flash flooding from other sources such as drains or rising groundwater.

The recent weather may have already provided ample evidence about whether you live in an area at risk from flooding. Even though you might not be facing rising flood waters right now, how do you know whether your property is at risk from flooding in the future?

Be Prepared!

Once you’ve found out if your property is at risk of flooding, planning ahead is key in avoiding the worst of the repercussions. There of course is the obvious solutions, such as sandbags and pumps! But there are also many cost effective solutions including flood-resistance or proofing works which can reduce the amount of water entering the property and reduce flood damage by 50-80 per cent.  For most businesses this is better in the long run, and unlike home owners, businesses are more likely to be able to afford the up-front cost of this worthwhile financial investment.

Emergency planning is crucial in the face of flooding. There are many considerations to weigh up almost immediately, from switching telephones off to finding alternative office space, or encouraging staff to work from home if they’re struggling to get in to the office. If you need to keep your business open and you don’t want to lose out on any potential contracts etc. it might be worth looking into using a telephone answering service, also known as a virtual secretary, who will take all of your calls and messages on your behalf whilst you are sorting out your property. Some companies will be able to set this up on an emergency basis, whilst some it may be worth getting in contact with now, to create a package which can be instigated at a moment’s notice.  

Health and safety of staff is an absolute priority and if your business is in immediate danger of flooding then you need to actively move any electrical or gas appliances, which should also be isolated.  Any submerged live equipment must be evaded. As well as health and safety you also need to consider security.  In times of need many people find that their businesses have been raided and looted, causing the situation to become ten times worse!

Business Flooded; What Now?

Before returning to your business premises you must check it’s 100% safe to do so. Once you can safely enter the property it is advised to take lots of photographic evidence in order to keep a record for your insurers and landlords (its best to keep a list of what is damaged in case it needs to be claimed for).

Once your insurance company has been informed they will need to send a loss adjuster prior to approval of rectification works. If you do not have insurance you will need to speak to your local authority for information on proposed grants in light of the Prime Minister’s announcement that those who are uninsured will be compensated for damage caused.

The clean-up operation will not be without risk – an initial health and safety assessment will need to be completed first. This will ensure that it is safe to make a more comprehensive survey and detailed evaluation of the extent of any damage and what repair work is required.

Floodwater is dangerous and may contain some dangerous sewage materials so you need to be wearing suitable protective clothing, until all areas are suitably disinfected. Further photographs can be taken when floodwater has subsided to record areas previously covered by floodwater. The degree of moisture content of the building will also need to be assessed and ventilation will be key to reducing the risk of mould growth – this however should be carried out by a professional.

Flooding is unlikely to lead to serious structural instability in modern commercial buildings unless there has been landslip or significant washing away of supporting ground. Again it might be an idea to get a structural survey if you have been the victims of a large amount of flooding as you might not necessarily be able to see the damage, if any.

Rate Relief

You will need to check the specific insurance and suspension of rent provisions clauses of your lease and it is recommended that you get in contact with some legal advisors on the interpretation of these lease necessities. Generally a business lease will provide that should the premises not be fit for occupation no rent would be payable until the premises are once again fit for occupation – however this varies from lease to lease, so make sure you check this information out first.

If your business should need to close, whether that’s full or part closure, contact your local council rates office in the first instance where initial rate relief may be granted. Any business affected by flood damage to such an extent that its premises are no longer able to be occupied will qualify for 100 per cent void rates relief for a period of three to six months from the date of vacation, obviously this is dependent on the type of property that you rent.

The government announced in February that there will be 100 per cent business rates exemption for flood-hit properties for up to three months (and potentially more for certain businesses)! Unfortunately there has been no more information released covering the detail of the flood relief, the qualification requirements or how the relief will be applied - so keep checking the BBC website for the latest up-to-date news;

Bio: Hannah is a guest blogger and writes for Barker Storey Matthews and others. She was delighted that offices she is linked to in Bury St Edmunds weren’t affected by the recent flooding, and is a keen supporter of petitioning the government to do more to prevent inland flooding and prepare businesses to deal with these situations.