A webpage that aims to provide some useful information on the various issues now facing owners and prospective buyers of thatched properties.
The climate facing thatched property owners and prospective buyers is currently a challenging one.
A contributing factor is the challenge of securing insurance for the property in the first instance. Securing insurance at an affordable price also remains a challenge for many.
This webpage provides information on the issue under the following headings:
Overview of challenges
Some thatched property owners have been encountering difficulties securing insurance for their property. In short, insuring older buildings is not viewed by some insurance companies as profitable given the perception of risk* associated with these buildings.
*Risk in this case may mean structural instability, fire hazards, age of building in question etc. although fire hazard has been the primary category of risk cited.
Other insurers won’t provide new thatch home insurance due to what one company described as ‘a serious deterioration in the claims experience on thatch properties’.
A bank will not issue a mortgage without insurance. This makes the buying and selling of these properties very difficult and poses problems for the survival of thatched properties into the future.
Difficulties intervening directly
The Central Bank is the State body that regulates and monitors the provision of insurance in Ireland.
However, this role does not extend as far as being able to approve or deny increases in premium rates. The insurance contract between the company and the applicant is a commercial matter that cannot be regulated by the government nor by other public bodies.
The insurance industry
These issues are not unique to the thatched property market and have developed in a small number of sectors that are not representative of the market as a whole. The Government is implementing the cross-departmental Action Plan for Insurance Reform. This initiative aims to improve the affordability and accessibility of this key financial service for both households and businesses by helping to tackle issues where it can apply domestic policy solutions.
It is understood that these reforms don’t necessarily apply directly to thatched houses and that progress in this area may require specific attention. It is nonetheless important to remain informed about developments in the wider insurance industry, some of which may be international in origin, which may provide useful context in our efforts to foresee what might unfold for the owners/buyers of thatched properties.
What is being done
The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is working in collaboration with the Heritage Council and other stakeholders to resolve the urgent issue of insurance for thatched properties in the following ways.
A study of the issues around insurance
A Living tradition: a strategy to enhance understanding, minding and handing-on of our built vernacular heritage, was launched by the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Minister Noonan, in December last year.
Action 6 of the strategy (page 12) specifically relates to thatch.
In line with the aims as outlined in action 6, the Department has initiated a study of the issues around insurance for thatch and the final report will be completed by the end of November 2022.
- This study will;
Determine the number of thatched properties in the country.
- Assemble data on the incidence and causes of fire in thatched properties.
- Canvas thatch owners and seek the observations of local authority fire and heritage personnel.
- Examine the situation for thatch owners in other jurisdictions.
- Engage with the insurance sector and the Department of Finance.
- Make recommendations for reducing the risk of catastrophic damage (especially fire) in thatched properties.
- Explore increased funding options for owners of thatched properties.
Thatch Steering Group
As part of this action, the Department also established a Thatch Steering Group comprised of the following stakeholders:
- Jimmy Lenehan (chair) a thatcher and thatch owner
- Edward Frampton, a thatch owner
- Barry O’Reilly, Architectural Conservation Advisor, DHLGH
- Rose Ryall, ACO, Waterford City and County Council, representing the local authority Architectural Conservation Officers Association
- Joe Gallagher, Heritage Officer, Donegal County Council, representing the local authority Heritage Officers Network
- Patricia Rogers, Building Inspector, (Thatching Grants), DHLGH
- Caroline Maguire, Senior Architect, Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities NI
- Colm Murray, Architecture Officer, Heritage Council
The steering group meets every quarter. The next meeting is scheduled for 12th January next.
The Thatch Property Insurance Action Group
The Thatch Property Insurance Action Group was formed to drive awareness and campaign for a resolution to the thatched properties insurance crisis.
They aim to form a ‘Thatch Owners Group’ to facilitate the creation of a ‘Thatch Property Insurance Group Scheme’.
For this to work, they need at least 1,000 thatch owners to join. The idea is that by banding thatch properties together for insurance purposes, this ‘Group Scheme’ could reduce and diversify the insurance risk allowing for all thatch properties to get affordable cover.
If you are interested in joining the ‘Group Scheme’, you can contact the Thatch Property Insurance Action Group directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Things you can do now
Below is a list of the companies people have recently approached for insurance quotations in relation to thatch. It should also be noted that some existing providers will offer cover to the purchaser of a thatch building which the provider already insures
- SimplyInsure.ie Thatch - http://www.simplyinsure.ie/house/thatched-cottages/
- Wexford Insurance. Offer “Period Property Insurance” https://www.innovu.ie/period-property-insurance-high-value-homes-insurance/. Offer Thatch Insurance but only for domestic dwellings and not commercial properties
- O’Callaghan Wholesale Insurance, Blackthorn Business Park, Coes Rd, Marshes Lower, Dundalk, Co Louth – O’Callaghan Wholesale does not deal directly with members of the public, but can be approached through your insurance broker
- Ecclesiastical - operate through brokers but you can phone them and they will recommend a local broker. Offer specific “Heritage Insurance” https://www.ecclesiastical.ie/heritage/index.aspx
- Acorn Insurance: https://www.acorninsurance.ie/home-insurance.html
*This list is compiled by Architectural Conservation Officers, is informal and is intended to help answer your query. It does not purport to be a comprehensive list of all the insurance companies who may operate in Ireland.
Funding for repairs
In terms of the availability of grants for the maintenance, repair and conservation of thatched house, there are a number of sources of funding.
Firstly, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage thatching grant is available for the renovation of thatched roofs of owner-occupied houses. You will find details of this scheme here.
A dedicated €500,000 has been ring-fenced under the Built Heritage Investment Scheme (BHIS) for conservation repairs to historic thatched structures to maximise the availability of financial assistance to such owners, helping them offset other costs. Each Local Authority will be allocated a share of the ring-fenced funding based on the number of historic thatched structures within its boundaries.
This funding will be awarded on broadly the same basis, using the same application form and to the same deadlines as the mainstream BHIS, with applications being made through the local authorities in the first instance. Information about the BHIS, and how to apply, may be found on the website of the relevant local authority.
Finally, the Traditional Farm Buildings Grant for 2022 is currently under assessment and is primarily aimed at farm buildings which again, may include thatched properties, but excludes dwellings.
Heritage Council work in the thatched property sector
The Heritage Council has been centrally involved for many years in providing financial support, guidance and information to thatch owners, providing advice on insurance and sources of funding when it is not funding works itself.
In 2006, the Heritage Council contributed to the drawing up of a curriculum for a FÁS thatch traineeship, has funded the publication of numerous county surveys of thatch, and in 2017, awarded €80,000 to 15 projects under a Thatch Conservation Grant Scheme.
Through County Heritage Plan funding, the Heritage Council also supports Donegal County Council in offering grants annually through a scheme, which is also funded by Creative Ireland and the County Council themselves.
Heritage Council staff liaise regularly with thatch material growers, seeking opportunities to support them.
Facebook group - https://www.facebook.com/thatchedcottagesireland/
Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage – email@example.com
The Heritage Council – Colm Murray, Architecture Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Insurance Ireland – https://www.insuranceireland.eu/
Thatch Property Insurance Action Group - email@example.com
Office to Promote Competition in the Insurance Market - firstname.lastname@example.org