Councils deluged with compensation claims for flash floods as road funding cut

The most serious claims run into tens of thousands of pounds (Joe Giddens/PA)
The most serious claims run into tens of thousands of pounds (Joe Giddens/PA) The most serious claims run into tens of thousands of pounds (Joe Giddens/PA)

Local authorities in England are being hit with hundreds of compensation claims for flash floods amid cuts in funding for maintaining local roads and drainage systems, according to research.

Analysis by public sector insurer Zurich Municipal found that between 2020 and 2022 councils received at least 740 claims from property owners for flood damage caused by sudden downpours.

Liability was accepted in 128 of those cases, leading to payouts totalling nearly £1 million.

The research was based on a combination of responses to freedom of information requests and claims data, relating to 139 of the 318 local authorities in England.

The true scale of the issue is likely to be much worse.

Many claims involve damage as a result of blockages to gutters, drains and tunnels designed to carry water under roads.

The most serious claims run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Zurich Municipal said cuts in highways maintenance funding are exacerbating the issue.

Recent analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) of figures produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that UK reductions to local roads maintenance funding were among the most severe out of 13 major nations.

The UK’s expenditure fell from £4 billion in 2006 to £2 billion in 2019, which was the last year for which international comparable data was available.

Alix Bedford, a risk expert at Zurich Municipal, said: “Well-maintained roads and drainage systems are vital for managing heavy rainfall, and mitigating the risk of flash flooding.

“Reduced funding from central government is making it increasingly challenging for councils to repair and maintain local highways.

“While potholes are a visible result of the budget shortfalls impacting town halls, a less apparent yet potentially more devastating consequence is flash flooding.

“Ministers need to recognise the far-reaching impact of a lack of investment in local highways, and do more to help councils ensure roads and drainage systems can cope with torrential rain, especially as our climate changes.

“With a general election now on the horizon, we urge all parties to commit to invest in the local road network as part of their manifesto pledges.”

The insurer also said councils could establish rapid response teams to clear gutters and gullies in flood-prone neighbourhoods ahead of forecast storms.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “This is yet more evidence that the state of many of the UK’s local roads has reached crisis point, with local authorities unable to adequately look after their networks.

“We desperately need the Government to look into how it funds these most vital of assets and give councils the certainty of longer-term funding so they can bring them up to a far better state of repair.

“This is something we have raised with both the roads minister and Secretary of State for Transport in recent months.

“While drivers regularly experience the consequences of poor road surfaces, homeowners can also suffer unacceptable flooding due to inadequate or poorly maintained roadside drainage.”

LGA transport spokesman Darren Rodwell said: “Instead of paying for costly compensation claims, councils much prefer to use their budgets to keep our roads in a good condition, in turn reducing the risk of damage to vehicles and personal injuries.

“However, this has become increasingly challenging, with an estimated and growing £14 billion backlog of repairs to bring all local roads across the country up to scratch.

“This is combined with the problems caused to local infrastructure by extreme weather events such as flooding, which are predicted to become more common in the future.

“All councils need greater, longer-term funding certainty.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Government is helping councils by investing over £5 billion in local highways maintenance funding – with an additional £200 million announced in this year’s Budget.

“It is for local authorities to maintain their highway networks, including cleaning and upkeep of gullies and drains.”