People living on coasts are unaware their homes may not be protected from flooding, says research

Many people living in coastal areas are unaware that their homes may not be protected from potential flooding in the long-term, new research shows.

Only a small proportion have taken measures such as buying sandbags and installing a pump to remove floodwater, the study found.

Dr Sien van der Plank, of the University of Southampton, surveyed people in 143 households and interviewed 45 senior engineers, insurers, landowners and council staff in three coastal areas.

Her survey of people living within six miles of the coast in Lincolnshire found that only 8% had installed a pump, 8% bought sandbags, 2% had put in a protective barrier and 6% had built water resistant walls.

People in only 12 of the 143 households (8%) thought they were responsible for managing flood risk, with 85% saying the Environment Agency was responsible, 64% the local council and 55% national government.

Dr van der Plank told the British Sociological Association’s online annual conference today [Wednesday 20 April 2022] that: “Households are increasingly expected to be part of flood risk management as part of a trend in flood management policies, but coastal householders still perceive other stakeholders to hold key responsibility for this and don’t perceive themselves to be holding flood risk management responsibilities.

“Despite the increasing message that the status quo cannot be continued defence for all the English coast where it has been thus to date, the public continues to miss out on hearing that message, and therefore unsurprisingly continues to expect a widespread ‘hold the line’ approach.”

The experts she interviewed felt the public in coastal areas of the UK generally were “largely unaware, uninvolved and not feeling responsible” for defences against flooding.

The surveyors, engineers and council staff she interviewed in two coastal areas, Cumbria and Lancashire, and Dorset and Hampshire, said they were worried about householders not taking responsibility.

“Interviewees spoke about households’ assumption that they would be protected and their assumption that they were entitled to public expenditure to protect them from flooding,” she said.

“Results suggest there is a disjuncture between these stakeholders’ perceived need for increased public debate on a longer-term, more joined-up vision for the coast, and a public, which is considered to be largely unaware, uninvolved and not feeling responsible for coastal flood risk management.”

One engineering consultant told her: “Some communities can no longer be defended – they have to recognise that they’re living on the wrong side of the defences and if they want to continue, they have to find other means of managing the flood risk, whether that be in terms of resilience or localised defences of their own.”

Dr van der Plank told the conference that while in many areas of the UK the Environment Agency funded most of the cost of flood defences, the local area had to find the remainder, and householders often need to pay for work to their own home. Coastal areas were at ever greater risk of flooding, with 370,000 homes having a higher than 0.5% risk of flooding each year, and the expected annual damage from coastal flooding estimated to be £400 million.

Nationally the current amount of flood and coastal erosion risk management spending was not sufficient to maintain the number of proposed ‘hold the line’ strategy areas outlined in shoreline management policies, and it was unlikely they would all be funded.


1. The survey was carried out in a coastal area between Boston and Skegness, which had seen flooding in recent years. Of those surveyed, 7% had had their homes flooded and 10% their place of work. The survey of households found that while most said they paid attention to flood warnings and had read brochures about it, only 30% had elevated their boiler; 7.7% had installed a floodwater pump; 7.7% had sandbags; 7% had water-resistant floors; 6.3% water-resistant walls; and 2% had a protective barrier. Dr van der Plank also spoke to 45 representatives of organisations with an interest or responsibility in managing coastal flood risk locally in Cumbria and Lancashire, and in Dorset and Hampshire.

2. There is no legal responsibility to protect households to any specific flood defence standard in the UK, but there are designated responsibilities for “risk management authorities” under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Risk management authorities include: the Environment Agency, lead local flood authorities, district councils (where there is no unitary authority), internal drainage boards, water companies, and highway authorities. Under the Partnership Funding approach to flood and coastal erosion risk management, in many areas the Environment Agency funds part of the cost and the local area finds the remainder, with householders often having to fund their own defences:

3. Figures on the risk of flooding and cost of damage are from the Committee on Climate Change, 2018. ‘Managing the coast in a changing climate’:

4. The British Sociological Association’s annual conference takes place online from 20 to 22 April 2022. Around 500 research papers are presented. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. It is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235

For more information, please contact:
Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392