Asbestos removal 'overlooked' in EQC cash payouts: contractor

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014

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The Earthquake Commission (EQC) might have underfunded potential asbestos removal in thousands of residential cash settlements, an earthquake contractor says.

Accredited Fletcher EQR contractor Warwick Joy said EQC should have warned homeowners about asbestos risks when issuing a payout for houses built between 1940 and 1990.

However, an EQC spokesman said this week that mandatory testing for homes built between 1940s and 1990s only applied to homes in the Canterbury Home Repair Programme (CHRP), not to cash settlements.

Joy said homeowners with cash settlements might decide to repair their property, potentially exposing themselves to asbestos.

He said he checked 2011 EQC assessment reports for friends and family who had been cash-settled. In both reports, work on high-risk materials was paid for, but no mention was made of the asbestos risk.

He estimated it would cost around $5000 to remove asbestos from his uncle's house, and about $1500 from a friend's.

Joy said this probable cost was not provided for in the cash settlement.

However, an EQC spokesman said the $100 cost of an asbestos test had been provided for in the cash settlement, even though there was no specific mention of it.

It was up to the builder hired to do the repairs to decide whether or not a test was needed.

"A margin is built in for a contractor to do preparatory work, including any asbestos testing if this is required," he said.

If the test returned a positive asbestos result, the homeowner could provide a copy of the test certificate to EQC so their cash settlement figure could be reviewed if necessary.

Joy was concerned none of this information was provided to homeowners before a payout.

EQC said all this information could be found on its website.

EQC figures show more than 3000 homeowners have opted out of the CHRP this year alone, following changes in February to EQC's opt-out scheme allowing claims where damage was assessed at over $15,000 to be cash-settled.

Joy said homeowners who had received a payout not covering asbestos testing and treatment should pay back EQC and opt into the Fletcher EQR programme to make sure asbestos would be safely taken care of.

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