Thousands of properties in northern England, Wales and Scotland have been flooded or battered by severe storms, leaving many without power or possessions, or unable to return to their homes. With more heavy rain forecast this week, here's how to report problems, claim on your insurance and protect yourself in future.

Over the weekend, Storm Desmond brought destruction to Carlisle and other parts of Cumbria and northern England, with more than a month's rain falling in just one day. There are currently severe flood warnings in England and Wales and no rail services will run between Carlisle and Scotland today due to flooding and landslip.

If you've been affected by storms or flooding, here's what you need to know – and see our Cheap Home Insurance and Storm Damage Insurance guides for more info on how to make a claim and tips for cutting renewal costs.

My property has been damaged. What should I do?

If you've emergency damage, act quickly to sort the problem:

  • To report a possible gas leak, contact the National Grid on 0800 111 999.
  • If you've electrical problems, call your local electricity distributor, NOT your energy company (see a list of emergency contact numbers here).
  • Report any sewage hazards to your local council.

When it comes to making repairs, don't do anything unsafe yourself. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says you should contact your insurer first – it should have a 24-hour claims line – and it should then arrange for someone to do any work that's covered.

But if you can't get through, or it won't be able to fix the problem quickly enough, arrange to have the damage fixed yourself by calling a qualified plumber, electrician or builder. Make sure you keep any receipts as this will form part of your claim.

As long as you have adequate home insurance, you'll be covered for any damage. It also nearly always includes cover for alternative accommodation if you have no access to your property. Buildings insurance will cover the structure of your home as well as fixtures and fittings, while contents insurance will cover your possessions.

My possessions have been damaged. What should I do?

The ABI says people shouldn't rush into throwing away damaged items, unless they're a danger to their health. Items may be able to be repaired or restored – your insurer will be able to give you more information on this.

Often, when claiming, key documents or proof of possessions will have been washed away or damaged. If vital documents are damaged or destroyed, get copies from the relevant provider. For example, you can go to the DVLA for motoring documents, brokers or insurers for duplicate insurance documents, or utility providers and the Passport Office. Check for how to replace birth certificates.

How do I make an insurance claim?

The ABI says customers should contact their insurers as soon as possible, so claims handlers can visit flooded properties to assess the damage.

When claiming, you may have to pay towards repairs and replacements, known as an 'excess', so check your policy for the full information.

You'll need to provide full details of the circumstances surrounding anything that's been lost or damaged, plus any evidence of that. Take photographs of the damage to your home, contents or car, or film the footage. This may help provide proof.

If your possessions have been badly damaged or washed away, any photographs of you with a particular item when undamaged, or held by friends or relatives, will demonstrate you owned it. Receipts, credit card bills or bank account statements that show your purchases can also be used as evidence.

It can take weeks, sometimes longer, for a property to fully dry out, and you should only return to your home when it's safe to do so. Also, don't be in a rush to redecorate your property. It needs to dry out properly and it'll need to be disinfected with antibacterial treatments. The restoration will start with the removal of debris and silt from the flood and properties are then stripped out, which includes hacking off damaged plaster and woodwork.

My power's been cut – am I entitled to any compensation?

In England, Scotland and Wales, if severe weather means you're without electricity for 24 hours continuously (48 hours in some cases, depending on the impact and number of customers whose electricity has been interrupted), you're entitled to £70 compensation plus a further £70 for each additional 12-hour continuous outage. The total cap for payouts is £700.

While Ofgem says the cash will be paid automatically for '"vulnerable customers", for everyone else, you need to claim from your electricity distributor, which is different from the firm you pay your bills to. To find yours, see the Energy Networks Association website.

Write to your distributor with the reason for and dates of the problem. You need to complain within three months, so get in touch as soon as you can.

My train's been cancelled. Can I get a refund?

Yes you can – but only if you decide not to travel. If you want, you'll be able to use your ticket on a later train (in which case you can usually still claim for a delay if you arrive at your destination more than 30 minutes late). But if you decide not to travel at all and the train was cancelled before you even got on it, you can claim a full refund instead.

You can do this by returning the unused tickets to the ticket office you bought them from, or by posting them to the train company.

If you booked your tickets on a third party website, such as RedSpottedHanky, you'll need to send your tickets back to them.

You have to make any claim within a certain timeframe. Usually you've 28 days to send your claim in and it'll take up to a further 28 days to be processed, but check the policy of the train company. For more info see our Train Delays guide.

How do I protect my home against future flooding?

As flood warnings are still in place and northern England is bracing itself for further rainfall, here are tips from the ABI:

  • Make sure you have emergency contact numbers for your insurer, local authority and utility companies to hand in a safe, waterproof place.
  • Listen out for bad weather warnings on local radio and TV.
  • Make sure any unsecured items that can cause damage in high winds, like ladders in gardens, are secured.
  • If you have a car, try and move it away from where flooding is expected.
  • If you are in a flood risk area, try to move valuable items upstairs or to a high place.
  • Keep a mobile phone with you.
  • Check if it is safe to use electricity, gas and water supplies.