Former EQC boss says rethink needed on payment cap

11:00 am on 3 July 2011

A former head of the Earthquake Commission says the organisation must inevitably reassess the cap on payments.

Local authorities have been scrambling to find cover after the major insurer failed to get a reinsurer after the Christchurch earthquakes.

The Christchurch City and Waimakariri District councils are now without quake cover for $2.8 billion worth of assets - including buildings and sewerage. The policies held by the councils expired on Thursday.

The Government has indicated any further damage to essential infrastructure in these areas will be repaired, with the costs split between ratepayers and taxpayers.

The city council says it's unlikely to find a replacement because reinsurers have an embargo on providing new policies in the Canterbury region.

David Middleton - chief executive of the Earthquake Commission for 17 years - told Morning Report EQC payments are still there for individuals who have other forms of insurance, and it has several billion dollars still in the kitty.

Mr Middleton says whether the levy needs to be increased depends on several factors, including how quickly the Government wants the fund to be built up again.

"If you increase the caps on the cover - the $100,000 and $20,000 on contents - you would automatically increase the levy. And the liability would increase at a lower rate than the levy would. So one solution would be to increase the caps."

He says there is no quick end in sight to the headache faced in Canterbury.

Mr Middleton says insurers are quite entitled not to provide cover when they feel that further damaging quakes are a certainty - and they are now waiting for the shaking to subside.

The same reinsurance companies have had to cover a series of catastrophes around the world, he says - and, as a result, everyone is being made to pay more.

Brokers still negotiating - council

Christchurch City Council says its brokers are still negotiating in overseas markets to get quake insurance cover.

Its general manager of corporate services, Paul Anderson, says that wouldn't include about $800 million worth of buildings which are no longer insured.

"The Government hasn't said that they would underwrite our facilities, but they have said that if there was further damage, they would consider on a case-by-case basis, and based on Christchurch City Council's ability to pay."

Mr Anderson says the council is still working to secure full insurance cover, as it does not want to rely on the Government as a backstop.