19 Jul 2017

EQC blamed for Edgecumbe insurance delays

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 19 July 2017

The Earthquake Commission is being blamed for delays in settling insurance claims resulting from April's Edgecumbe flooding, with three staff assigned to deal with all 271 claims received.

When asked, the EQC refused to say how many claims it has settled, instead saying it is "working hard to resolve all claims as quickly as possible".

Mark Mayo, whose elderly mother Ursula lived around 60m away from the stopbank that breached on 6 April, says he is yet to hear from his EQC case manager.

"After some prompting [we were] eventually assigned a case manager, who I've had no communication with, I've heard nothing," Mr Mayo said.

"We really are in the dark a little bit."

His mother's home is unliveable. It's been red stickered, meaning she is not allowed to return, and a fence around it stops her from trying.

"[The house is] basically broken in half, it's been caved in from behind, the house has actually fallen into a 2m hole. And it's gotten worse, it's slowly dropping further away," Mr Mayo said.

The insurer, Tower Insurance, refused to discuss the case with Checkpoint, but said in a statement "third parties" are causing delays.

"The only thing I'm getting back from the insurance is they're putting it on EQC, they're waiting for EQC's input on it," Mr Mayo said.

The Minister in charge of EQC, Gerry Brownlee, did not respond to a request for an interview.

The EQC said in a statement that it had been asked by the government to remove silt and debris from properties damaged by the flooding, and that work is 65 percent complete.

It refused to say how many claims it has settled, but said "there can be up to 20 staff members working on this project. This includes assessors, an event manager, and claim handlers along with staff from across the organisation."

Insurers have paid out 70 percent of the 1400 claims received from Edgecumbe, said chief executive of the Insurance Council, Tim Grafton. 

Mr Grafton said progress has been slow in some cases for several reasons: Waiting for homes to dry out fully before they can be assessed, asbestos and mould issues, and the EQC.

"The EQC has under current legislation a statutory obligation to pay the insured not the insurer," Mr Grafton said.

In other words, insurance companies cannot pay home owners out and then chase EQC for money.

"It's a tiny piece of legislation where substantial change is needed," Mr Grafton said, "We've argued consistently that insurers should be responsible for assessment and management of all claims and that'd make for a far more efficient recovery process."

An EQC reform bill is expected to be drafted later this year, but the changes it proposes aren't expected to be actually implemented until 2020.

Mr Mayo said contents insurance has been a battle too. After several lowball offers of as little as 60 per cent of the sum insured, he said he got fed up.

"Then I wrote an email just saying we weren't happy with the process and we felt it was taking advantage of people in a vulnerable situation and a few other things and within about a week we got a reply and the figure was really close to the sum insured."