Flood victims could be denied $300K assistance because of insurance changes

Some B.C. flood victims might not be eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance because of a change in the flood insurance that's available in B.C.

Officials still working out Financial Disaster Assistance eligibility

Residents retrieve their belongings from the flooded Ruckle neighbourhood of Grand Forks, B.C., on Thursday. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Some B.C. flood victims might not be eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance because of a change in the flood insurance that's available in B.C.

The provincial Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program pays victims of flooding and other natural disasters up to $300,000 —  but only for losses that were uninsurable.

It was recently approved for flooding victims in the province's Interior where flooding badly damaged hundreds of homes, leaving some so contaminated by sewage they were deemed unsalvageable.

But after flooding last year, 32 homeowners had their applications for flood assistance denied, because they had turned down the new optional overland flood insurance policy offered to them

"That was seven per cent of the more than 400 applications filed," said Johanna Morrow, the manager of recovery and funding program at Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC).

A home damaged by floodwaters is seen in an aerial view, near the Kettle River in Grand Forks, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

And as the new insurance becomes more widely available, it's unclear how many flood victims will be ineligible this year.

New overland flood insurance offered

Until recently, Canadian insurance companies did not insure against damage from water originating outside a home, such as a flooding river or shoreline, meaning almost everyone was eligible for the disaster assistance.

But that changed a couple of years ago when some insurance companies started offering the optional overland flood insurance to some customers.

Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman Aaron Sutherland says the cost reflects the risk of flooding where you live.

"As your risk goes up as you get closer to the floodplain, you can expect your premium to reflect that," said Sutherland, who pegs the typical cost at "less than a cup of coffee a day."

Resident Lars Androsoff carries his friend's guitars as he walks through the floodwaters in Grand Forks, B.C., on Thursday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

While the insurance is available to about 90 per cent of homeowners across Canada, it is not offered by all companies and in all areas.

"In fact, for those at highest risk, it may be difficult for them to find flood insurance at all," noted Sutherland.

"For instance, a large portion of Grand Forks is right in the floodplain, meaning it would have been difficult for many homeowners to get coverage at all."

'A very flexible approach'

But for those who are eligible and did not get the optional insurance, Emergency Management B.C. is warning those homeowners will no longer be eligible to receive Disaster Financial Assistance after a flood.

'If a flooding disaster occurs and DFA is authorized for a disaster event, an applicant who could reasonably and readily have purchased overland flood insurance would not be eligible for DFA," said a 2016 statement from EMBC.

Volunteers look for lost pets to stop human evacuees from heading back into flooded homes. 5:13

Despite that statement, officials at Emergency Management B.C. say they don't yet know whether anyone will be denied assistance this year.

Morrow says she is still consulting with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to determine where the insurance was "reasonably and readily available."

"Their insurance broker would have to have said to them: 'You can get overland flood insurance,' and they would have had to have said: 'No thanks.' Then, we would have to look at that quite closely to see if they fit within the eligibility."

She says In order to verify they were unable to get flood insurance, homeowners applying for DFA need to ask their insurance agents to complete a form posted on the EMBC website.

Everyone should still apply

For those who are uncertain about their coverage, Morrow says anyone who had flood damage is encouraged to apply for Disaster Financial Assistance anyway.

"We are taking a very flexible approach to that, because the insurance is quite new, and it is not widely available across the province," said Morrow, adding, "we don't expect people to switch their insurance company to get the coverage,"

"The goal of our program is to provide as much help as we can. So, we are not looking for ways to deny people. We are looking for ways to approve them."