Tony and Diane got flood insurance just before their home was inundated, but were too late

Tony Faulks and his wife Diane Carpenter are struggling to get through winter in their flood-ravaged Brisbane home.

To escape the mould, they’ve set up a makeshift living room and kitchen in their garage.

“It’s like camping, to be honest, but we don’t have a choice, we have nowhere else to live,” Mr Faulks said.

“It’s getting cold. It’s really cold,” Ms Carpenter added.

It’s been more than three months since they were surrounded by floodwater and rescued off the stairs of their house in the suburb of Rocklea.

Muddy water washed up over the floorboards, ruining sections of the walls and causing extensive damage to the kitchen and bathroom, and electrical and plumbing systems.

Flood damage and walls stripped back to wooden foundations.
The flooding severely damaged Tony and Diane’s home.(Supplied: Tony Faulks)

Many of their possessions were destroyed.

Shortly before the flood hit in late February, Mr Faulks signed up for insurance cover with Suncorp.

Paying the premium is a struggle, even though both he and his wife have steady jobs.

“We pay private health, we’ve got insurance on one car and not two, we live from week to week, we don’t have savings in the bank.”

“We’d like to retire but now we’ve got a house that’s unliveable.”

In a statement, Suncorp said it had denied Mr Faulks’s insurance claim because the flood damage happened within 72 hours of him buying the policy.

“There is a standard 72-hour exclusion period for a new policy relating to bushfire, storm, storm surge, flood or tsunami and this is highlighted when buying online and a condition of purchasing,” the statement said. 

“Suncorp has already paid a cash settlement for temporary accommodation of approximately $11,000, at the request of Mr Faulks.”

Mr Faulks said he was unaware of the exclusion period when he signed up.

The couple is now faced with the confronting situation of fixing the damage on their own.

Rescue boat in muddy flood waters.
Tony Faulks and Diane Carpenter had to be rescued from the stairs of their house during the floods.(Supplied: Tony Faulks)

They’ve already done this arduous task once before, after the 2011 floods when they were uninsured.

“It’s hard,” Mr Faulks said.

“Last time, with the help of donations from different charities, we were able to basically get it (the house) rebuilt over a period of time.”

Residents choosing not to have flood cover

The widespread flooding that occurred across south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales throughout February and March has caused record-breaking destruction, according to the insurance industry.

“It’s now the fourth-most-costly natural disaster event in our nation’s history, with a $4.3 billion price tag of losses.

“There are about 220,000 claims sitting in the system that insurers are working through.”

The insurance industry has noticed people in high-risk areas are choosing to go without flood cover.

Residents watch the flood waters in Lismore, New South Wales, Friday, March 31, 2017.
Insurance data has revealed residents in flood-prone areas like Lismore are opting out of flood insurance.(AAP: Tracey Nearmy)

“We’ve seen in areas that are very flood prone, people have opted out of their flood insurance, which leaves them completely exposed and vulnerable,” Mr Hall said. 

“It’s why we’ve been saying to the government, we need to look at ways of reducing the risk.”

Gavin Fletcher is also uninsured and dealing with the devastating aftermath of flooding.

Man standing in a workshop wearing a black shirt.
Gavin Fletcher found his flood insurance became unaffordable after the 2011 floods. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)

His property in Bundamba, about 45 minutes south-west of Brisbane, became surrounded by an inland sea and sustained widespread damage.

“[It was] catastrophic, really,” Mr Fletcher said. 

“Everything under the house, in the workshop, upstairs … covered in a goo of mud. You just don’t know where to start, basically.”

Before the peak hit, Mr Fletcher scrambled to save expensive tools from inside his mechanic’s workshop, placing them in a van and raising it on a hoist towards the ceiling.

His efforts proved futile.

A workshop inundated by flood waters with only a partial roof visible.
Floodwaters reached the roof of Gavin Fletcher’s workshop.(Supplied: Gavin Fletcher)

The Fletchers haven’t always been uninsured; they had cover during the 2011 floods which meant they were able to bounce back relatively quickly.

But after that disaster, they found their premium became unaffordable, despite them shopping around.

“Every day it’s a concern that something could happen,” Mr Fletcher said. 

“It just became completely unaffordable after the levels of flood in 2011.”

Parts of Australia predicted to be ‘uninsurable’

A recent Climate Council report says extreme weather events could make insurance too expensive for many by 2030.

Economist Nicki Hutley predicts parts of the country will become uninsurable.

“Uninsurable doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get the insurance, it means you can’t get affordable insurance, and that’s the key here,” she said. 

“Right across Australia, the number is one in 25 [properties], but in individual areas it might be as high as nine in 10 – 90 per cent of properties at risk of being uninsurable.

“We’ve done catastrophe modelling, which is looking at the impacts of those [weather] events.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked by the number.

A woman wears glasses and an orange jacket.
Nicki Hutley predicts more Australians will find insurance unaffordable as extreme weather events become more frequent.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Insurers have recorded a staggering underwriting loss on home insurance of $424 million over the past two calendar years, according to figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The record-breaking cost of the 2022 floods could be a factor in future premium increases, with cost pressures already high, the Insurance Council’s Mr Hall said.

“Inflation is having a big impact on insurance,” he said. 

“Globally, reinsurance costs have gone up. Locally, the cost of rebuilding and supply materials and trade and labour have all gone up.

“This doesn’t help when we have these large events unfold like this, and then I’d expect over the next few years we’ll continue to have an environment where the pressures will be more of an upward fashion.

A street with piles of rubble lying in front of houses damaged by floods.
Like many residents affected by the flooding, Tony Faulks and Diane Carpenter are still trying to figure out their next move.(Supplied: Tony Faulks)

Mr Faulks and Ms Carpenter know something needs to change before they face their next flood, but they’re divided about what that change should be.

“I really don’t want to stay here. My feeling is we need to move on,” Mr Faulks said.

“Tony wants to relocate, I don’t,” Ms Carpenter added.

“I find that as we’re getting older, the hospitals and everything are close.

“It’s been actually very stressful … we don’t know what to do.

“We wanted the insurance company to come to the party and honour our policy.”

Calls for various levels of government to do more

The couple has registered with the $740 million Resilient Homes Fund which is being jointly funded by the Queensland and federal governments.

Two thousand and six hundred people have already applied.

The fund will pay for some flood-affected properties to be bought back, raised or made more flood resilient.

The fund is welcome but long overdue, according to the insurance industry.

It believes far more needs to be done by various levels of government including investing in flood levees, cyclone proofing of homes and more widespread land buybacks.

Insurers also believe building codes and planning laws need reviewing.

Aerial photo of Lismore in flood
The Insurance Council is pushing for governments to do more to improve resilience against extreme weather events.(ABC North Coast: Ruby Cornish)

“There is at least 2 per cent of Australian housing stock sitting in the wrong place, and up to 15 per cent at risk of flood at least every 10 years, so that is a very large risk factor,” Mr Hall said. 

“We think it’s one that is unacceptable because of the number of people that are living in harm’s way.”

Nicki Hutley agrees much more needs to be done to protect vulnerable communities.

“I think our planning system really needs to be looked at very carefully,” she said. 

“There is a great degree of responsibility there that has allowed developers [and] people to build on flood plains, to build in dangerous areas, without having the right mitigations in place.

“We absolutely must revisit planning systems, how they deal with climate risk, and these disaster risks.”

Watch this story tonight on 7.30 on ABC TV and ABC iview.

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