Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

How does the law stand with regard to flooding in England & Wales?

Flooding may seem like the classic “act of God” when it comes to legal matters but there are, in fact, a number of situations where people can seek compensation if their property is damaged by flooding.

Not only are a number of new statutory laws in place, but there are some common law rules that a lot of people may not know about.

Flooding is on the rise

There is a clear trend of increased flooding in the UK and across other parts of the world. The causes of this can be debated but they certainly include the development of land that previously helped mitigate flood waters as well as a greater likelihood that climate change is playing a part. As a result, businesses and homeowners now face a much higher risk of flooding and having to deal with the resulting clean up, costs and loss of business.

Statutory Law

This term covers a number of acts passed by parliament to help deal with flooding in England and Wales, and, in many cases, to prevent it.  The acts include the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 which covers all sorts of rules and activities around coastal erosion management, land drainage and more. It also gives the Environment Agency / Natural Resources Wales oversight of the risk management around flooding. This Act also requires new developments to have Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) in place to be able to complete the project. This has led to a number of companies offering assessments around flood risk and drainage to allow developers to gain planning permission under the act. Other acts include the Coastal Protection act, Water Resources Act and the Land Drainage Act.

While these important laws help deal with flooding and the issues around it, they do not deal with issues around property and personal damage. That is dealt with under common law.

Common Law

These days the courts have put a lot more focus on people who own property and their actions and how those actions could cause flooding and damage to other properties.

Much of the legal basis is geared towards the use of the land; was it reasonably used, was there a clear risk associated with any specific use and which steps did the party at fault take to prevent or reduce any flood damage?

Flooding to your property caused by others counts as a nuisance. This covers unlawful interference with your right to use and enjoy your land.

Protecting your property

Whilst the focus for most homeowners is on damage to their property, it is also important to remember that taking measures to protect your own home could lead to damage to someone else’s. You have the right, under common law, to take reasonable measures to protect your property provided these measures do not cause harm to others.

Flooding your neighbour’s property

The law says you must use your land and property in a way that would not increase the risk of flooding any neighbouring property. You are legally responsibe for keeping your drains clear and you cannot drain water onto your neighbour’s property. Of course, the law allows the natural flow of water downhill from one property to another but you cannot actively channel water to another property in a way that will cause damage. You are also legally obliged to maintain any flood defences that are within your property.

Living next to a river

Whilst you can build flood defences to protect your land, these cannot be at the cost of other people’s property. Any flood defences should be approved by the Environment Agency before building starts. As a waterside property owner, you are also legally bound to maintain the river bed and banks by clearing waste and the like. You are also not allowed to cause any obstruction or diversion to the watercourse.

Cesspools and septic tanks

If your property has a cesspool or septic tank for sewage and waste water, you are required by law to make sure these tanks are water-tight and not overflowing. If any waste gets out of your tank, you can be prosecuted; if it gets into the watercourse, you could be given three months in prison or a fine of £30,000.

Know the law

If you’re in an area at risk of flooding, you should be aware of the law in terms of your responsibilities and those of your neighbours. This could help avoid you being prosecuted (because of efforts you may have innocently made to avoid flooding in your home) and also help you to seek damages if flooding is caused by others.

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DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to directly.

Published on 14th May 2018
(Last updated 7th May 2021)