Insurers urged to share flood risk data

Insurance companies should share their flood-risk data on a publicly available ‘data-sharing platform’, climate change experts have recommended.

The new approach, involving government, insurance companies, and other agencies, would provide a sustainable flood-insurance model in Ireland, as flood risk increases.

The proposed reforms were outlined at a conference in University College Cork (UCC) at the weekend. They were contained in a report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, which is based in the London School of Economics and Political Science. The report was prepared in collaboration with UCC’s Environmental Research Institute, and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In Germany and in Austria, the government and the insurance industry share flood-mapping data; in Australia, Denmark, and France, various agencies share flood-management data, and in Norway, data insurance-claims information is publicly available.

But Swenja Surminski, a senior research fellow at the Grantham institute, said the approach by insurers in Ireland is not transparent.

While insurers signed a memorandum of understanding with government, in 2014, and agreed to take flood-defence measures into account when deciding on underwriting and pricing, thousands of homes and business-owners still can’t get flood cover.

The insurance sector has been accused of treating certain areas of the country as uninsurable, through geocoding — this assigns the same flood risk to all properties in a large area and does not always recognise recent advances in flood-protection.

This has resulted in some homeowners and businesses paying premiums that reflect a higher risk than they are exposed to, or being unable to get flood insurance.

“Insurers have responded by arguing that lack of investment and ineffective planning restrictions mean that exclusions are necessary to reflect rising risk levels and to maintain flood-insurance provision at affordable rates for those at lower risk,” the report says.

But Ms Surminski said the research highlights the need for a new approach to flood insurance.

Her report calls on the Government, insurers, utility companies, banks, property developers, and all other sectors that own data on flood risks to collaborate on the creation of a publicly available platform, where data can be shared and accessed.

The proposed data hub could encourage insurers to set fair and transparent premiums, which recognise risk-reduction measures.

It could be used by government to provide short-term relief to help homeowners and businesses who can’t get affordable insurance, and to target flood-protection measures in the most at-risk areas.

But the report warns against “short-term, stop-gap efforts” to prop up the existing insurance system without treating the underlying problem — increasing flood risk.

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