24 Jan 2017

Insurance Council rejects criticism over quake claims

8:53 am on 24 January 2017

The Insurance Council is defending the industry against criticism that some commercial insurance claims are taking too long in quake-damaged Kaikōura, saying insurers are working as hard and fast as possible to process claims.

Wayne Shanks owns the Kaikōura surf shop.

Wayne Shanks owns the Kaikōura surf shop. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

It's been more than two months since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked North Canterbury and the lower North Island.

Tens of thousands of claims have been lodged due to the event but some Kaikōura business owners say the process is taking too long and are questioning why.

There is a lot of optimism in Kaikōura for the future of the town and how it can recover from the earthquake but some business owners who spoke to RNZ, also expressed frustration at the insurance process.

Wayne Shanks owns the Kaikōura surf shop and said if he hadn't sought legal advice last week, his insurance claim for damaged stock in the store, would not have progressed.

Damage to the Kaikōura surf shop.

Damage to the Kaikōura surf shop. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

"I don't really feel like I should've had to engage a lawyer to get this process going. But it seems to be, and maybe this is a hangover from Christchurch, the insurance companies don't want to directly engage with people, they need that push from someone with letters by their names to move forward.''

Mr Shanks said that following the Canterbury earthquakes he thought everyone would be on their game but he said insurers don't seem to run to anyone's timeline but their own.

"Initially it still looked like a lot of people running around, not communicating. It didn't flow. Where as I thought they'd have that after six years, especially the insurance companies.

"I thought the insurance companies would go 'we've learnt a lot of lessons in Christchurch, we've upset a lot of people but let's make Kaikōura the one we get right.'''

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said criticisms were unfair, that there were enormous efforts going on to resolve insurance claims, whether residential or commercial.

He said considerable lessons had been learned from the Canterbury earthquakes.

"Perhaps the most notable one is that we see insurers taking the front-line in acting as an agent for the Earthquake Commission in managing undercap claims. I think that's a significant lesson out of Canterbury.''

Mr Grafton said this event, if it had not been for the Canterbury earthquakes, would have have been the largest insured event that New Zealand had seen.

He said things were going as quickly as they could.

"Insurers and EQC work night and day for many, many hours, in order to achieve that for Kaikōura. So it would be totally unfair to say lessons haven't been learnt, a lot has been learnt.''

Duncan Webb

Duncan Webb Photo: SUPPLIED

Duncan Webb is a lawyer who has acted on behalf of many insurance claimants in Christchurch and is also Labour's candidate for Christchurch Central.

He said that insurers were probably doing their best but they were not equipped to respond in the way they needed to respond.

Mr Webb said insurers tend to take control of the situation and defer or delay, so it was up to the homeowners to take control of their own destiny.

"Huge lessons have been learned in Christchurch but have yet to be learned in Kaikōura.

"What I really don't want to see is everyone make the same mistakes, be generous and forgiving because it's a crisis and indeed it is, but what happens is that over time people get exhausted and insurers take advantage of that.''

Mr Webb said it was important that people read their insurance policy, got active and if they got into conflict, got expert advice.