6 Jul 2015

Quake-hit residents welcome EQC change

6:29 pm on 6 July 2015

Proposed changes to the Earthquake Commission Act are being welcomed by people in Christchurch who feel they've had a rough deal from the insurer.

170414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Empty  house on the red zone, Christchurch.

An empty home in Christchurch's red zone following the earthquakes. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

As well as doubling the amount the Earthquake Commission (EQC) pays out for disaster cover to $200,000, the changes would see private insurers handle claims on the commission's behalf.

Sarah O'Brien fought a two-year battle to get what she believed she was owed on the earthquake damage to her home in the north of Christchurch.

After initially declaring her home could be repaired for $30,000, EQC eventually conceded it needed to be completely rebuilt.

"We had about 10 different groups of big men coming through trying to null and void our damage, and if it wasn't for my knowledge in construction, I don't know what I would have done."

Ms O'Brien has welcomed plans to have private insurers take over the job of carrying out assessments before handing claims on to EQC. She said this should have happened following the earthquakes.

"EQC were totally unprepared. They had, I think, 29 full-time staff and for some reason, all the time we've been paying our levies, I don't think they were expecting such a catastrophic event."

It's about time

The Canterbury Insurance Assistance Service provides independent help to people struggling with their claims.

Its spokesperson, Lorraine Guthrie, said EQC's lack of preparedness had had a huge impact on thousands of people in Christchurch.

"After four years, if you are still having to deal with your insurance claims, then you have become vulnerable. I worry about how long it's going to take people to become well again after having to deal with the frustrations of all of this."

The chairperson of Christchurch group Insurance Watch, David Stringer, said preventing EQC from providing contents cover, and leaving it up to private insurers following disasters, was another good aspect of the changes unveiled today.

"These are examples of learnings from bitter experience. So involving the private insurers, who are very good with contents insurance, they've got good systems and scale in place, is good."

A spokesperson for the advocacy group Cancern, Leanne Curtis, said doubling the amount EQC had to pay out on claims to $200,000, before private insurance kicked in, was long overdue.

"One hundred thousand dollars was never realistic in the scheme of things, not with a disaster on the scale of Christchurch. So nobody wants to see premiums rise, but some of this is just coming up to the 21st century."

A review of the Earthquake Commission Act began in 2012 after the EQC effectively ran out of money paying for the series of earthquakes in Canterbury. It looked at the types of property the commission insured, how it priced its insurance and how it should be financed.

The proposed changes are open for public feedback until September and the Government hopes to have a bill before Parliament early next year.

Earthquake-damaged home in Sumner, Christchurch.

Earthquake-damaged home in Sumner, Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

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