Flooding: What support is available for my business?

Car flood
A car drives through flood water on Canal Quay in Newry

Businesses in parts of Northern Ireland hardest hit by flooding have been left counting the cost of the damage.

Many have told BBC News NI that their insurance does not cover flooding.

Insurers will look at a lot of information including flood maps and previous incidents which might mean some areas, like BT35 in Newry, cannot get flood cover.

However, it can depend on a street-by-street basis.

The advice from industry experts is to contact your insurer or broker regardless as they will need to know the property is empty as that might affect other parts of your policy.

If you do not have cover for commercial damage of things like stock, that also means you will not be eligible for business interruption cover either.

Alastair Ross, from the Association of British Insurers, said: "There are some properties whereby insurance cover will exclude flood cover.

"That's because insurance is a business that's built on risk and data and in those cases the cost of insuring for flood insurance, bearing in mind the likelihood of a claim coming in and the severity and the extent of that claim probably goes beyond the commercial appetite of insurers.

Debris and food water in Sugar Island in Newry city centre
Debris and food water in Sugar Island in Newry city centre

"It may be that insurance is simply unavailable, or where they are quoting, the business has decided that they can't afford that.

"It's a really difficult situation for them to be in, insurers do want to try and do business and help these customers, but they need to be able to do that within the confines of their own business models and risk appetite."

What support is available?

Businesses are calling for support from all levels of government - council, regional and Westminster.

At a regional level, there is no executive or ministers in place but the Department for Infrastructure is working on the immediate aftermath and clear up.

There have been calls from business organisations for the Department of Finance, which is responsible for rates, to give businesses an immediate rates holiday.

But BBC News NI understands that the department would not have the financial firepower to fund this, nor the ability to pass legislation in order to do this.

The department does have a hardship rates relief fund that businesses can apply for retrospectively to get rates paid back. Applications, it said, can be made up until 31 March 2024.

"In addition Land & Property Services would encourage those experiencing difficulties paying their rates bill as a result of the floods to contact them as soon as possible and discuss payment options that may help alleviate immediate financial concerns," a spokesperson continued.

At a Westminster level, business groups have also called for a financial support package.

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) spokesperson said the UK government has been "in close contact" with the civil service and would continue to work with it closely "in the days ahead".

The Department for Communities has activated the Scheme for Emergency Financial Assistance (SEFA) for the period from 17 October 2023 to 16 November 2023.

"Individual householders who have suffered severe inconvenience following the recent incidents of flooding can claim £1,000 payment from their local council as an offer of practical assistance," a spokesperson for The Executive Office said.

"Departments are also exploring what financial support they could collectively provide as part of the overall response.

"An approach will be made to HM Government, through NIO, for financial assistance for impacted businesses."

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said it has been "engaging with businesses throughout the process and is keeping residents affected by flooding informed of financial assistance available through the SEFA scheme".