Hundreds of flooded households will not receive a penny of the thousands of pounds in compensation announced by Boris Johnson because of an “obscene postcode lottery” being applied by the government.
The prime minister promised that grants of up to £5,000 would be made available for victims of flooding, after visiting Fishlake in Yorkshire last November in the run-up to the general election. Another set of payouts of £500 for households and £2,500 for businesses was also announced.
However, families struggling to get back into their homes and rebuild them to withstand future flooding have discovered the money is only available to areas on which Johnson focused during his visit. Anyone flooded outside the tight time limit of 8-18 November is not eligible, and the payouts are only triggered in areas where more than 25 homes were affected.
Mary Dhonau, a flood risk consultant, said: “Boris Johnson said everyone that is being flooded would get up to £5,000, but what he didn’t say was that he meant everyone who was flooded between 8 November and 18 November and in a group of 25 houses or more.
“A flood is a flood, people suffer exactly the same wherever they are, not more in areas which are visited by the prime minister.”
More than 2,000 homes and businesses were affected by severe flooding in Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire and Warwickshire last autumn.
Nearly four months on, hundreds of householders and businesses have received no financial support from the government.
One source with knowledge of the grant approvals said: “The eligibility criteria are illogical, inconsistent and unfair. They have created an obscene postcode lottery for flood victims going through traumas which will last for years to come and, for some, the rest of their lives.”
A month before Johnson’s election visit to Yorkshire, severe flooding affected counties around the West Midlands and the border between England and Wales. In Herefordshire, the River Wye reached record levels, and at one point the entire English stretch of the River Severn was the subject of flood warnings, affecting Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
As a result of the government funding restrictions, support will only reach about 30 of more than 300 households that were badly flooded across the neighbouring English border counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and Herefordshire.
Sam Underwood, a musical instrument designer, was flooded twice at his home and workshops in Callow End, Worcestershire. He had just cleaned up from the first flood in October when he was hit by the second a month later.
Although the second happened in the “right” month to be eligible, he cannot get any of the grants because he is not in an area where more than 25 properties were affected.
“This compensation would’ve really helped us to get back to normality much more quickly and we could’ve taken some further measures to limit future losses,” he said. “Without the compensation, I had to cease working to deal with the recovery myself. As a sole trader this inevitably had a significant impact on my livelihood.”
But his neighbours in Wychavon district – just a few miles away – who were flooded by the same event and the same river, were eligible for compensation because they crossed the 25-property threshold.
In Hereford, Polly Ernest, who runs a B&B, was forced to evacuate her guests and leave her home when it flooded on 25 October, with contaminated water seeping up through the floorboards and making the house uninhabitable.
Ernest is still not able to move back in and is losing tens of thousands of pounds in income, but because her flood was not between 8 and 18 November she is ineligible for a resilience grant.
“We haven’t had a penny from the government because we flooded a week too early and because we are in a safe Tory seat – they didn’t give us anything. I have written to my MP Jesse Norman but we keep being told we are not eligible,” she said.
“Its disgusting. It is discriminatory. Something is either a national emergency or it is not. Why was the flooding in Yorkshire any worse than the flooding in Hereford?”
The only support Ernest is likely to receive will come from Herefordshire county council’s own emergency fund, because the government has not triggered financial support for the county council.
In neighbouring Worcestershire, where 132 properties were flooded, the councillor Tony Miller said no one had received government grants yet, but he anticipated only 33 homes might be eligible.
“The way the threshold criteria has been set for the minimum number of flooded properties means that unitary authorities such as Shropshire and Herefordshire can submit numbers for the whole county, but in Worcestershire the figures must be broken down into each of the six district council areas. As a result, only one district of Worcestershire is eligible,” he said.
Dhonau said the grants were vital to help people adapt their homes to be flood resilient. “With climate change, floods will become more regular, the norm even. I always encourage everyone newly flooded to install ‘recoverable repair’ to cut down the recovery time. That’s why the grants are so essential, as they will enable those recently flooded to put money towards resilient adaptation.”
A government spokesperson said: “We moved swiftly to provide support to an estimated 2,000 households and businesses affected by severe flooding in November 2019 through a range of grants and schemes, including council tax and business rates relief. We are continuing to work closely with local councils to ensure that everyone affected, households, communities, farms and businesses recover as quickly as possible.”
The spokesperson added: “The November 2019 flooding in the Midlands and north of England affected over 2,000 homes and businesses in England and was the most significant flooding event in recent years since the floods in the north of England in 2015, and it was on this basis that a decision was taken to activate the Flood Recovery Framework and the Property Flood Resilience recovery scheme.
“The grants are available to reimburse local authorities for support offered to households and businesses following the flooding which took place between 8 and 18 November. Only those flooded during this timeframe are eligible for this support.”