Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to assess the inherent adaptive capacities of multilevel flood management institutions in England that are necessary to espouse the concept of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). Design/methodology/approach – This paper is based on an extensive assessment of flood management literature including European and English flood management policies, strategies, regulations and reports. First, an assessment protocol was developed from systematic literature search and, second, multilevel flood management policies and organizations were evaluated. A qualitative scoring method was applied at the assessment stage. Findings – The protocol included 18 major assessment criteria under seven EbA principles. Application of the protocol showed that English national flood policies showed comparatively greater adaptive capacities than European-and local-level policies and local organizations. Specialized flood management policies such as Catchment Flood Management Policies at the local level and European Policies such as flood directives are among the lowest-scoring policy institutions. It was also identified that there is an emerging trend of stakeholder participation, catchment-based approach and knowledge-based adaptation planning at the national level which potentially can be the entry points of wider-scale EbA implementation. This paper recommends proactive roles of local executive organizations through improving institutional communication, consideration of catchment-scale planning with clear adaptation goals and valuing local knowledge base. Originality/value – The research is important to identify the institutional aspects of adaptive capacity that require attention for promoting alternative adaptation measures such as EbA.