It’s a scandal that Scots housebuyers get so little information about flood risk – Richard Hepburn

Housebuyers in Scotland are given considerably less information about the potential flood risks of a property than those in England – and that must change, writes Richard Hepburn.

By Richard Hepburn
Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 11:18 am
Flooding at the constituency offices of Christine Jardine MP in Corstorphine, following torrential rain.

The return of the typically diverse Scottish summer has probably surprised no one. However, the variability of our climate over time is rightly grabbing the attention of policymakers in Holyrood, at Westminster and beyond. No wonder when residents are having to watch as water laps at their front doors in mid-summer – just as an Edinburgh MP was recently filmed doing – that public focus on flood risk is at an all-time high.

We need to recognise that focussing on flood risk is not just a national policy imperative, it’s an individual matter too. We should all be seeking to be more aware of the level of flood risk we face at home and at work, and if necessary make plans to mitigate that risk.

Whether we realise it or not, flooding is a factor for more of us to consider than ever before. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) conducts a regular national flood risk assessment, and its recent findings demonstrate the change. The number of properties at risk from flooding in Scotland has increased from 108,000 in 2008 and 2011 to an extraordinary 284,000 as reported by Sepa in December last year.

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The Sepa website allows access to a mapping service showing very basic information on general flood risk throughout an area, and I know that Sepa is keen for more people to access and share that information.

Scotland is not alone, of course. Recent TV coverage from across England and Wales clearly demonstrates the recurring impact of flooding on homes and workplaces there. However, housebuyers south of the border have an advantage in understanding their specific flood risk – they have better access to individual property assurance on their likelihood to experience flooding as a normal part of the sale and purchase process.

Shockingly, in Scotland, there is no current mechanism for providing that same information. A homebuyer’s only protection is a single tick box on a form provided by the seller, indicating whether or not they are aware of a flooding incident at their property in the previous five years. My legal search firm Millar & Bryce does not think that is good enough – Scottish consumers deserve better.

Given that Sepa has a system of national flood risk maps, there should be no barrier to companies like ours, a leading legal search firm, taking that national data, and using it to provide relevant assurance reports as a statement of individual flood risk that can inform the buyer before proceeding to purchase.

That flood risk assessment would be individual, and crucially would look ahead to projections of risk over coming decades; the current approach fails to recognise the dynamic, changing nature of this devastating risk.

Whether the house is in Leith or Liverpool, everyone deserves to have the same ability to require a seller to evidence flood risk before they buy.

It’s a simple matter of consumer protection – it should not be acceptable that home buyers in Scotland are effectively purchasing on the basis of self-certification by the seller.

The pictures over recent weeks, where households have been devastated by flash flooding in Edinburgh and across Scotland, should be the prompt we need to ensure every household can have access to individual flood risk assurance, including future projections. Seems like common sense – what are we waiting for?

Richard Hepburn is managing director of law firm Millar & Bryce