Eskdale residents still 'fighting with insurance companies' since cyclone damage

7:41 pm on 21 February 2024
The aftermath of massive flooding that swept through the Esk Valley during Cyclone Gabrielle. The river's normal path can be seen running down the right of the valley.

The aftermath of massive flooding that swept through the Esk Valley during Cyclone Gabrielle. T Photo: RNZ/ Sally Murphy

Residents in flood-damaged Eskdale in Hawke's Bay are still battling insurance claims a year on from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Some 965 claims have been resolved by the Claims Resolution Service in its first year, out of a total of 1725 cases.

The free service was set up in February 2023 to help homeowners with residential insurance claims after natural disasters, where people are unhappy with the process or the outcome.

Director Darren Wright said it was important for homeowners to seek independent advice; there were reports of homeowners being asked to sign binding contracts to progress insurance claims, which was not a requirement.

Eskdale resident Carla Pell's home was destroyed by flooding during the cyclone.

She lodged a claim with the insurance company in the immediate aftermath, but after it became apparent that some areas would no longer be liveable, she wanted to hold off to see what the council decided by way of red zones and buyouts.

"Very early on, before the council had made any decision about the categorisation, they made it very clear that they would be looking at the flood maps," she said.

"But our insurance company wanted to settle with us then and there, on a repair basis.

"We thought 'Okay, fair enough, but we don't actually know whether we'll be allowed to go back to our house, so why are we going to accept a settlement for repairing a house that we may not even be able to go back to?'."

The overlap of the insurance and council categorisation processes became confusing, she said, worsened by the multiple points of contact at the insurance company, due to their claim being handled by a combination of subcontractors and staff.

"It wasn't in any part the fault of the insurance company, it just was like, 'I don't know what I'm doing here'," Pell said.

"We just wanted to make sure that we weren't going to be rushed into anything."

The community at Eskdale was close-knit, she said, and because so many of them were affected they held information hubs for residents. At one, there was a representative from the Claims Resolution Service.

"We were very confident that they knew more than we did about the whole process, and I pretty much just left it with them," Pell said.

"We happened to know the woman who was our representative was a local that we knew as well, so that gave me a bit more surety that things were going to be dealt with."

Eventually, their home was rated category 3: not safe to return to, and their private insurance claim returned "a better result than what we expected" - they would be paid out in full for the value of their ruined home.

"We are very fortunate we are, I know," she said. "There are still a lot of people in our community that are still fighting with the insurance companies.

"It's still not over, and it could be potentially years for a lot of people. We're a very tight-knit community, and as much as I'm thrilled that we got sorted, I just would like everyone else to be in the same boat as us, so everyone can start moving on."

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