Is a soakaway covered by insurance?

Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Insurance policies can be difficult to understand, and to really understand what they actually provide cover for. Whilst insurers are required to provide policy documents in language that should be easy to understand, it doesn’t mean that lengthy policy documents can be easily interpreted.

When it comes to underground services such as drainage systems, policy cover can be even more unclear. Many believe that home insurance policies simply provide cover for buildings, but the reality is that the majority of policies also provide cover for drainage systems connected to the property insured.

That’s the good news for property owners. The less positive news is that even if the policy states that it covers drainage systems, it might not cover ALL parts of it. And, in some instances, even if it does provide cover, the insurer may still decline the claim. Let’s look at why.

What is a soakaway?

This is a really important question when considering whether a soakaway is covered by insurance. Generally speaking, a soakaway is a network of perforated or slotted pipework, which takes the wastewater from a septic tank or sewage treatment or septic tank. The soakaway enables the wastewater to percolate safely into the subsoils surrounding the pipework.

But terminology can be confusing! Sometimes a soakaway can also be referred to as a `drainage field’. And there are other things which can be referred to as a soakaway, for example:

  • A deep ring soakaway – this is often required when space or ground conditions are limited, and is essentially a deep excavation with concrete rings stacked
  • A rubble filled pit – exactly as rudimental as it sounds!
  • A crate soakaway – this should only ever be used to deal with rainwater but is sometimes incorrectly used in wastewater drainage systems

So, what types of soakaways are covered by insurance?

As a general rule, insurance policies will cover you for accidental damage to underground services. And generally speaking, accidental damage means unforeseen or unexpected damage which prevents the system from functioning properly (some policies have their own definitions of accidental damage which are always worth checking before you take out any policies).

When it comes to soakaways, insurance policies will generally only provide cover for those which are made up of slotted or perforated pipework. A rubble filled pit is not considered a compliant form of soakaway, and if a crate system was in place then it would have been installed incorrectly.

What type of soakaway damage would be covered by insurance?

It is important to remember that insurance policies provide cover for unforeseen events leading to damage – they don’t provide cover for soakaways which have:

  • ceased to work due to age or deterioration
  • ceased to work due to poor maintenance (in the case of a soakaway, this would mean a lack of emptying of the tank it connects to)
  • been incorrectly installed.

The types of damage to a soakaway which would typically be covered by insurance would be:

  • damage caused to soakaway pipework by tree roots
  • damage caused to soakaway pipework by vehicle movement above ground
  • damage caused to the soakaway as a result of damage to the tank it connects to - an example of this would be structural damage to a septic tank, which would allow solid waste to pass into the soakaway it connects to, resulting in a failure of the entire system.

Would insurance cover the costs of replacing a damaged soakaway?

The main challenge with soakaways is that they typically can’t be repaired, but they also can’t be replaced on a like-for-like basis, and certainly not in the same location as the damaged soakaway. This is because a properly constructed and installed soakaway relies on the surrounding sub-soils to safely percolate the waste water it carries from the tank into the ground without causing pollution.

Prior to a soakaway being installed, a percolation test must be carried out. A percolation test assesses the ground conditions specifically in the area in which the soakaway is intended to be located. It ensures that the ground has sufficient porosity for the wastewater to filter through. If the tank to which the soakaway is connected suffers from damage that affects its ability to separate or treat the waste from the property, this can result in solid waste particles leaving the tank and entering into the soakaway. These solid waste particles pass through the perforations or slots in the soakaway pipework and clog the surrounding subsoils. This means that the ground in which the soakaway is currently located is no longer suitable, and is the reason why a soakaway can’t be replaced in situ.

Alternatives would therefore need to be investigated for replacing a damaged soakaway. These could be:

  • other areas within the boundary of the property, in which the ground conditions are suitable
  • an alternative type of soakaway such as a deep borehole soakaway
  • a sewage treatment plant to replace a damaged septic tank. This is because a sewage treatment plant provides a greater level of treatment of the waste, so often a smaller soakaway is required, or a discharge to a watercourse could be considered
  • in cases whether other options have been exhausted, a connection to the mains drainage may be an option

Therefore, it’s unlikely that there would ever be like-for-like costs to replace a damaged soakaway, and often a more holistic view is required to determine what the best solution is for the property. A good insurer will cover the costs of replacing a damaged drainage system in whichever way is most appropriate to the property.

How can I make sure that my soakaway is covered by insurance?

Even if you’re not currently experiencing soakaway problems, if your property has a septic tank it’s always a good idea to review the insurance cover you have in place. Unfortunately, off mains drainage systems can be very costly to replace!

Here are our top tips for making sure you have the right cover in place:

  1. Make sure you select `accidental damage’ cover if the insurer you are considering has this as an added optional extra. Most policies include this as standard, but it’s becoming increasingly common for it to be an option – don’t get caught out, especially as it often doesn’t have a big impact on the premium cost.
  2. Check any specific exclusions on the accidental damage part of the policy – you should expect to see exclusions for things such as gradual deterioration or wear and tear, but we have seen a policy which specifically states that it excludes soakaways.
  3. Cheapest often isn’t best! The market has been flooded by a lot of low cost insurance policies, which can appear to offer good cover but at a very low price. Unfortunately, with insurance you often get what you pay for – sticking with an insurance brand which cares about customers and its reputation is always safest
  4. Know who is providing your insurance! Policies can often be badged with the name of your favourite retailer or other brand, but the policy will be provided by someone entirely different. Make sure that you are happy with the company providing the policy, not the brand you purchased it through – because it will be them you’ll be dealing with when things go wrong.

The UK Drainage Professionals team are experts both in managing insurance claims for property owners, and in installing septic tanks, soakaways and other off mains drainage systems. If you’re experiencing any septic tank problems or soakaway problems, contact our team today for expert friendly advice. We will quickly be able to determine whether you are likely to be covered, and if so we can manage everything from start to finish on your behalf. Why not complete our eligibility tracker today to find out if you’re covered?

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Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Sam's career prior to UKDP was spent in the marketing and service industries, so she is focused on making sure we look after our customers – and getting the UKDP message out there! Sam has overall responsibility for business operations and for delivering the best customer service we can.

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