16 Feb 2015

Quake repairs still two years off

5:51 am on 16 February 2015

Four years have passed since earthquakes started upending lives in Canterbury, but hundreds of homeowners can only now begin negotiating repairs to their homes.

An earthquake-damaged home in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner

An earthquake-damaged home in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Their claims have been deemed "over cap" by the Earthquake Commission because they will cost more than $100,000 and must be dealt with by their private insurer.

For some that could mean another two years before their houses are repaired.

Pip Coory's Springston home was badly damaged in the September 2010 earthquake.

EQC assessors said it could be repaired for $30,000.

Almost four years later, the Earthquake Commission finally accepted Ms Coory's view that it was over cap and transferred her to her private insurer, which is now looking at a repair bill of over $1 million.

She said trying to convince the commission the damage was over cap was a full time job.

"I have written so many reports, so many letters, made so many phone calls," she said.

"I've spent so many hours on hold waiting to get through to someone in EQC only to hear the same story again. It was horrible, absolutely hideous, draining effort that should not have been required or necessary."

Pip Coory is not alone. In the last year 1963 homes were finally transferred by the Earthquake Commission to private insurers. And rather than dropping off, the numbers have been increasing, with 744 of those claims being transferred in the final quarter of last year.

Leanne Curtis from earthquake lobby group Cancern said it was unacceptable that people had had to wait so long for action.

"What we are looking at are families who have sat on a waiting list for four years, some nearly four and half years, sat there with EQC and made no progress. And only now they are going to start talking about what is going to happen with their insurer?"

She said that showed something was terribly broken with the way EQC had made decisions.

Assessment quality blamed

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said the problem came down to the poor standard of initial assessments of houses.

He said major work that put repair bills over $100,000 was only sighted at the point when people came on board to carry out the work.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

"There's quite a few of those that have come through, and I think in many instances it just comes down to the quality of the assessment and paperwork in the very early stages."

He said the insurance industry needed to know how many more homes would be transferred to its books to know what its liability was.

Earthquake Commission chief executive Ian Simpson said 93 percent of the home repairs in Canterbury had now been completed, and those remaining were often on hold due to homeowners not being ready, or the cases had been particularly complicated.

He said during the course of the earthquakes, the Earthquake Commission carried out about 400,000 assessments.

"Given that number there are going to be errors, and overs and unders," said Mr Simpson.

He said the number of claims that went over cap in 2014 represented about one percent of the commission's total claims portfolio.

Mr Simpson said the commission had made a commitment that by the end of April, the 3300 homes still waiting for work to start would either have their repairs underway, completed, or the owners would know for certain that they were being handed over to their private insurer.

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