Through the roof: Thatched cottage owners to roll out new group insurance plan amid soaring costs

Thatched cottage owners are working to set up a group insurance scheme in a bid to secure cover after Irish insurers stopped taking such clients due to a ‘lack of appetite for the risk”.

People looking to buy thatched roof properties are now finding it difficult to secure mortgages as they cannot obtain insurance.

Many take huge risks living in uninsured homes and others have gone into debt after paying thousands of dollars for insurance.

Áine McGarry bought Trohanny Cottage in Co Meath with her late husband in 2000 and together they worked to transform it from a derelict building into one of the most visited properties in the county.

She is currently renting it out on Airbnb to try and help raise funds to cover the €11,000 she has been asked for for repairs the property needs.

Ms McGarry said the grants offered by the government were not enough to cover “astronomical” insurance and maintenance costs.

“You are the caretaker of an amazing, protected structure and we want to do our best for them and hold on to them, but there are a lot of responsibilities – you feel very alone,” she said.

“The building is like having a child that requires a lot of maintenance. You love it so much and you’re so invested in it, but there’s such a huge responsibility. The government wants us to protect them, but on the other hand, it does nothing to help people get affordable insurance.

“I have guests from overseas and have had a few who write in the guestbook that the reason they came to Ireland is because they saw the chalet online and they wanted to stay there.

“It’s going to be about not knowing what we have until it’s gone because if things continue we’ll be charging people tickets to come in and visit these properties – because the owners won’t be able to continue to maintain them.”

Ms McGarry’s thatched house is covered by liability insurance for neighboring farm buildings, but she described it as a ‘grey area’.

“I would prefer to have specific cover for thatch but unfortunately I can’t get one, especially since Brexit. God help anyone who has recently bought a thatched house.

Laura Ní Loingsigh NicBhaddaigh was hoping to buy a thatched cottage in The Ballagh, Co Wexford but sadly was unable to secure a deal.

The house she wanted dates back to the 1700s and is a beautiful heritage building.

“I went to see him but couldn’t even get to the bidding stage because I couldn’t get past the insurance hurdle,” she said.

FBD Insurance, one of the main companies providing cover, said: “Thatched roof houses are currently not part of our new business risk appetite. However, we can consider proposals on a case-by-case basis for existing customers.

“We continue to offer renewal terms for properties already covered.”

OBF Insurance has also stopped writing new thatched property insurance “due to the severe deterioration in claims on thatched properties.”

“If thatched-roof property insurance were profitable, other insurers would flood into the market,” OBF added.

Colman Stack, who lives in a thatched house in Co Cork, currently has no insurance. The cost of coverage, he said, is a major deterrent for many.

“Thatched-roof houses are disappearing very quickly. I would like to see something done to encourage more people to get back to stubble,” he said.

It is now estimated that there are just over 1,000 thatched roof properties left in Ireland.

The Alliance for Insurance Reform has urged the government to organize an alternative to commercial cover. A petition calling on the government to address the disparity between ordinary property insurance and thatched roof insurance has so far received hundreds of signatures. “If this insurance situation continues, then our heritage will suffer,” the petition reads.

The Heritage Council said it hoped ‘a basis for calculating premiums that works for all parties involved can be built’.

Work is underway for a study on insurance issues for thatched houses. Owners of thatched roof structures will be invited to participate in the study.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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