Insuring Thatch in the ROI

The Reason For This Article

We have been contacted a few times recently on the topic of insuring thatch in the ROI (Republic of Ireland).  This becoming increasing difficult for property owners.  We felt that an article on the issues would be a good way forward.  This will help in publicising the situation – and maybe it will help improve things!

Social media posts, emails, telephone messages have all been coming and going from various sources including insurance companies, loss adjuster and also from a well-informed homeowner in ROI, Aedamar O’Loughlin.  Discussions with her on the problems and what she was doing about it were most interesting.  We mentioned doing an article and asked her to give us her story on insuring her thatch in the ROI.  Here’s what she said.

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We became the proud owners of our beautiful thatched cottage in Wexford, South East Ireland back in September 2006.  Located only an hour from our current home, it is only a few miles north of where I grew up.  It was our dream holiday cottage where we have spent most weekends along with our Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays.

When we first sought home insurance back then, there were a number of providers and while the premium quoted was more than four times that of standard house insurance, we accepted that it being thatched and a holiday home, influenced this.   We have remained insured for the last 16 years with the same insurance provider and while the premium has increased somewhat over that time, we are aware that there is a major issue now for many who cannot obtain insurance for thatch properties or, in some cases, owners cannot afford the now highly inflated premiums.

The Problem and Reason for the Story

It appears there have been a number of factors gathering pace over the last few years creating the situation Irish thatch property owners find themselves in.  A number of underwriters have left the market for various reasons.  Those that remain may have reached their quota of specialist properties they can cover and Brexit has also had an impact with some UK operators no longer able to provide cover to Euro Zone countries.

For us, the issue first raised its head in 2021.  After realising our use of the cottage was going to reduce over the next few years, due to various reasons, we sought to offer it available for holiday lettings.  With a number of parties booked for their week-long stay throughout the summer months we discovered, to our surprise, that our insurance provider would not cover the cottage for lettings.  We sought cover elsewhere and quickly came to realise that our options were extremely limited.  We became aware of only one operator who would consider giving us a quote and this was extremely heavily conditioned.  The investment we would have to make in the property, along with the considerable increase in premium, would render the exercise fruitless and so we reluctantly removed our cottage from the holiday rental platform.

The Insuring Thatch Saga Continued

Subsequently, we made the tough decision earlier this year to place our cottage on the market for sale.  While this was going to be an emotional wrench, we were confident we were making the right decision for our family and most of all believed the cottage deserved to be lived in more than we could commit to over the next few years.  And so, in early May this year we placed Bay Tree Cottage on the market with a local auctioneer.  The interest was strong and we were pleased it was being considered by people planning to use the cottage as their permanent residence.

However, just a few weeks into the marketing campaign a news item about the lack of available insurance for thatch properties in Ireland was gaining traction in the media and after calls to our own insurers, we became aware that they were no longer taking on new business and therefore would not be in a position to offer cover to any purchaser of our property.  At this point we again tried to source cover elsewhere but quickly discovered there were now no insurance providers taking on new thatch cover.

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Social Media – Finding Out More

This led us to making contact with a group of thatched cottage owners on Facebook where we discovered there are a large number of people with varying issues around insurance, including their inability to;

  • obtain a quote for insurance,
  • afford the extremely high premiums quoted,
  • under-take the onerous conditionality sought by insurance providers to enable them to obtain cover e.g. if their property is in close proximity to another thatch property.

Furthermore, as the majority of thatch properties are protected structures, the option of re-roofing the property is not feasible.  A number of people in properties that are not protected, though loath to do it, may indeed look at alternative roofing so as to enable them to obtain insurance cover.  This, in itself, would be a very unfortunate outcome for the traditional Irish thatch cottage and it’s place in our culture.

I was shocked to learn of the number of thatched property owners who do not have insurance cover and are forced to take that risk simply due to the fact they cannot afford the unjustified hefty premiums currently being quoted.

Then there are those who unknowingly purchased thatched properties in the last year or so, only to discover after closing the sale that they cannot obtain insurance cover, as there are currently no underwriters taking on new business.

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Contacted the Thatch Advice Centre for Help

I became aware of The Thatch Advice Centre through Facebook and reached out to them for any advice or help they might be able to give.  I thought they may be able to give some insight into how the insurance industry in the UK deals with thatched properties.  I asked some specific questions around;

  • the number of insurance providers covering thatched properties in the UK market,
  • average yearly premiums for thatch cover,
  • whether underwriters in the UK have quotas which once filled, cannot give further cover,
  • what level of conditionality underwriters were seeking from homeowners.

While The Thatch Advice Centre were unable to provide the answers to my specific questions, they were very helpful in offering what help they could.  After a long telephone discussion about our situation they were forthcoming with the idea of writing an article to highlight the issue in the hope that perhaps something could be done to improve the situation.

The Heritage Council of Ireland

Members of the Thatched Cottages of Ireland group are presently appealing to The Heritage Council of Ireland and Government Ministers to seek their assistance in improving the situation for thatched property owners.  My understanding is that they believe the best way forward to make insurance cover more available and affordable for thatch properties is to have new entrants in the insurance market

The group has also circulated a petition on highlighting the issue around insurance for thatched heritage buildings, which has obtained over 1,000 signatures.

Unable to Insure Thatch

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For now, at least, it seems the owners of thatch properties in Ireland will continue to:

  • struggle to get access to insurance cover
  • continue to pay highly inflated premiums
  • make the difficult decision to take the risk of not insuring their property due to it being unaffordable
  • be restricted in being able to sell their property as new purchasers will not be able to get insurance cover
  • make the difficult decision to strip and replace thatched roofs (on unprotected structures) in an effort to obtain insurance cover

And for those wishing to purchase a thatched property, they will be denied the opportunity to own and live in the home of their dreams with the peace of mind that insurance cover brings.

Other Interesting Articles

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Since working on this article with Aedamar, we have also become aware of others who are highlighting this situation and further emphasising the problem.

Article in Donegal Live Insurance Costs the Last Straw for Donegals Iconic thatched Cottages

One of the Thatch Advice Centre’s Instgram friends who has Trohanny Cottage has also written a blog including this topic of insurance and other factors affecting thatch in ROI.

These are confirming the story above and sadly further emphasising the problem.

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Conclusion to this Insuring Thatch in the ROI situation

This story obviously has no conclusion ….. yet.

The Thatch Advice Centre is, however, pleased to be able to help explain the plight of thatched property owners (and potential thatched property owners) insuring their thatch in the ROI.   It is a horrible situation which needs to be addressed so that homeowners can live in, sell, or buy thatched properties and have the confidence that they can get and afford appropriate insurance cover.   The changing of roofing material from thatch to something else on heritage properties cannot be an appropriate way forward and neither is lack of insurance.  Let us know what you think.

We are also liaising with Associates who may be in a position to assist.  We will, as ever, update you on developments.

In the meantime, if anyone has any information which can help, please get in touch and we will forward/deal with accordingly.

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