Flooding victims receive financial support
Flooding victims are being urged to seek financial help, with many left homeless and thousands battling to keep the waters at bay.
Banks, councils and the UK tax authority have all offered to waive or delay some bills for flood-hit householders and small businesses.
But there has been some criticism that not all of their emergency numbers are free.
Meanwhile, insurers say they have emergency response teams in place.
Many thousands of homes have been damaged by floods and high winds over the winter, but the authorities have said that there are practical steps that can be taken, with more wind and rain forecast.
"With images everywhere of flooded countryside and local residents battling the elements, it's unsurprising that many people are feeling overwhelmed by what the recent storms and floods are likely to cost - and when things might finally return to normal," said the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
"Speaking to your insurer as soon as you can, keeping records of personal items that may have been damaged and finding out what your policy will cover, should you not be able to return to your home straight away, can go a long way when it comes to easing the burden of making a claim."
The ombudsman said that it received about 350 complaints about building insurance each month, with about half of these related to bad weather. It finds that about four out of 10 of these complaints are justified.
Complaints were often about rejected or partially paid claims. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that loss adjusters were being sent to homes as soon as possible to assess the levels of damage.
Emergency payments were also being made to families and businesses, it said. Alternative accommodation was also being found for homeowners and businesses with eligible cover.
However, some people might find that their policy is only basic and might not include all possible remedies. Meanwhile, some people may have home contents covered by their insurance up to a certain value, and find that not all damaged belongings will be repaired or replaced if the damage is extensive.
Some of the worst-hit homes have been in Somerset, and the county council has said that council tax could be waived for a time when people have been forced from their homes.
A spokesman for the council said that people were clearly unable to use local services, and so could apply to have the bill temporarily cancelled. This would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Banks and building societies have also said that they would consider waiving overdraft fees for those who face a sudden rise in expenses or drop in income - primarily small businesses or the self-employed.
Homeowners facing a financial squeeze as a result of the flooding could also apply for a payment holiday from their mortgage. This could mean that their bill is cancelled, for up to three months, but then added to the end of their mortgage term.
This would usually show up as a missed payment on an individual's credit history, affecting their credit score. However, James Jones, of credit reference agency Experian, said that banks and building societies would not register the payment as missed in these cases, so a credit history would be unaffected.
Despite the flexibility, some banks and insurance companies have been criticised for using 0845 numbers for helplines.
"It is unacceptable that flood victims could be left out of pocket when calling for help and we want to see all companies and public bodies to play fair and drop these costly numbers as soon as possible," said Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?.
Businesses have been told by HM Revenue and Customs that there would be special treatment for those affected by the floods.
The UK tax authority said that assistance included:
- Agreeing instalments from those unable to pay tax bills
- A practical approach for those who lose vital records in the floods
- A suspension of debt collection for those affected
- Cancel penalties when taxpayers have missed deadlines
Many homes have suffered from power cuts as a result of the winter storms and flooding.
Power distribution companies generally offer compensation for households that are without power for more than a day as a result of the storms.
Energy companies, which are separate firms and send out bills, said that they would listen to anyone facing financial difficulty as a result of the bad weather.
"We know people may be worried about their bills, so customers need to get in touch with their supplier as soon as possible if they are concerned," said Energy UK, which represents the energy companies.
"In the meantime, if your power goes off, you need to talk to your local distribution company."