Starting from a general understanding that experience of hazards is important in motivating protective response, this paper reports a novel study to understand the relationship between householder experience, understanding and response to two natural hazards - flooding and sea-level rise - in three contrasting high-risk areas of England. It presents a generic Individual Understanding and Response Framework (IURF) as a simple but potentially valuable means of comparing hazards and expressing the dynamic processes that appear to heighten or attenuate understanding and drive or constrain responses to specific natural hazards. The IURFs confirm the complexity of factors underlying householder understanding and response. Even in high-risk areas a lack of recent direct personal experience of flood events serves to attenuate understanding and to constrain motivation to take personal action. For sea-level rise, as yet a largely 'unknown' hazard in the local context, perceived responsibility to act is transferred to others. Social networks are confirmed as important local sources of information often more important than the official. People evaluate potential protection or mitigation measures in terms of their efficacy, cost and implementation barriers. The paper concludes with discussion of the communication and engagement implications for communities at risk from natural hazards.