More than 5,000 homes in Northern Ireland could benefit after a new flood insurance scheme to help at-risk households get more affordable cover was launched.
Flood Re aims to re-energise the home insurance market for households living in flood-prone areas - and it could mean that for the first time in years, some high-risk households have a choice of providers.
The scheme works with insurance firms so people who own and live in properties that are most likely to flood can shop around for cover more easily. It is hoped the increased competition will help drive down premiums for those affected. It is estimated that over time around 350,000 UK households could benefit.
According to projections from the scheme, 5,116 properties in Northern Ireland could be helped by Flood Re in the coming years.
In January, water levels in Lough Neagh reached a 30-year high during the worst of the storms to hit Northern Ireland.
So far, the firms offering policies backed by Flood Re represent over half of the home insurance market, and more are expected to come on board. The list so far includes Admiral, Aviva, Churchill, Direct Line, LV= and More Than.
Brendan McCafferty, chief executive of Flood Re, said he is "delighted" the scheme is now live.
"If you're in a high flood risk area then Flood Re may also mean having a choice of insurance provider for the first time in many years. Again, shop around and see what cover and prices you are offered."
Funded by an annual levy on insurers, the initiative removes the flood risk element of insurance for an insurer and so keeps the cost of the policy down.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said some insurers will be contacting customers directly to tell them about how Flood Re can make a difference.
Consumers can also call their insurer to find out if they can offer new options. The ABI said it is a good idea to shop around, as the existence of Flood Re should, over time, mean more choice of affordable flood cover.
It also emphasised there is no need for customers to take any action now if their policy is not due for renewal yet.
The ABI stated that fully drying out, repairing and restoring a flooded home often costs between £20,000 and £45,000, so buying insurance for such properties often costs more.
Insurers have put the flood damage bill for storms Desmond, Eva and Frank during December and over the new year at around £1.3 billion, including commercial as well as domestic property. The average estimated payout for each domestic flood claim for these storms was put at £50,000.
Meanwhile, the head of the Rivers Agency warned it will be "fighting a losing battle" against flooding if climate change predictions turn out to be true.
David Porter told Stormont's Agriculture Committee there is no engineering solution to the kind of floods seen across Northern Ireland over the Christmas and New Year period. Instead, he advised people to look at their flood risk and draw up contingency plans for what to do if floods hit.