British insurance companies told a meeting with government ministers yesterday they are prepared to act quickly to help victims of record floods that have so far caused an estimated 600 million pounds ($1 billion) in damage.

Cabinet Office ministers Oliver Letwin and Jo Johnson were among those who held talks with the chief executive officers of Aviva Plc, Direct Line Insurance Group Plc, Axa SA, Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Ageas. The 600 million-pound estimate was drawn up by Ernst & Young, though the Financial Times has reported insurance industry executives citing amounts as high as 3.5 billion pounds.

“We had a positive and constructive meeting with the insurance industry on the steps that they are taking to get people back on their feet as quickly as possible after the flooding,” Flooding Minister Dan Rogerson said in an e-mailed statement released by Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.

The insurers restated their commitment to maintaining the current standards of flood cover until a guarantee program known Flood Re begins in 2015. Flood Re will provide homes at high risk of flooding with affordable insurance.

The insurance companies assured ministers that there has been no evidence of premiums for at-risk homes being raised in advance of the program being introduced, according to the statement. Ministers and insurers will continue to meet monthly.

While the threat of further flooding has eased this week, particularly on the River Thames, west of London, water levels remain high after a record spell of wet weather. The Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood defenses, says homes and businesses could remain water-covered “for some time.”

Flood Warnings

The River Severn could also see continuing flooding in counties north of London, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire until Feb. 20, the agency said in an e-mail. Southeast England is forecast to have a mixture of showers and rain-free days for the rest of this week.

Fourteen severe flood warnings for the Thames, indicating a risk to life, have been lifted by the Environment Agency, though two are still in place on the Somerset Levels in southwest England, where the country’s largest ever pumping operation continues in a bid to drain inundated land.

On a visit to Somerset, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called on the government and insurers to agree on new industry standards to expedite the payment of claims.

Emergency payments to households and businesses totaled 14 million pounds since Dec. 23, while 24 million pounds has been spent on immediate alternative accommodation, Cameron’s office said earlier, citing information provided by insurers. Companies assigned 1,800 extra staff to deal with customers.

–Editors: James Hertling, Alan Crawford