Insurance wrangle takes toll

WORRYING TIMES: Neil and Moire Mathieson find it hard to keep a good face in front of parents and staff.
WORRYING TIMES: Neil and Moire Mathieson find it hard to keep a good face in front of parents and staff.

Neil and Moire Mathieson ran two successful preschools before the quakes.

But with both premises damaged and multiple delays with insurance and the Christchurch City Council, they are now in debt and worried the bank might pull the plug.

More than three years of delays and arguments with council and insurance have taken a heavy toll on the couple.

Neil said he'd had to take on counselling and was suffering stress-related health problems. Moire said she was disillusioned with the process.

"All our lives we've paid high premiums for our house and our business and we naively thought we were covered," she said.

With a strong insurance policy for their business, they thought they had nothing to worry about. However, it took insurer Vero five assessors and more than a year to decide whether they could repair the damaged preschools.

When Vero finally told the Mathiesons they could relocate, consenting struggles with the council started for the relocation of one of the schools. The new premises used to be a cafe and they had to apply for a change of use.

Moire said she was initially told by the council it would be a simple process, which would only take a few weeks. However, it took more than a year to get things moving.

These delays meant they could not reopen and generate revenue for that preschool.

"We were desperate to get ourselves going," Moire said.

CCC unit manager commercial consents Leonie Rae said the council had been actively working with the Mathiesons from the beginning to ensure a smooth process.

"At the pre-application meeting, the applicant was urged to seek professional advice with the application. This was encouraged because of the complexity surrounding the change of use. This advice was repeated on several separate occasions however, the applicant persisted in progressing the application themselves."

The Mathiesons submitted the application in July 2013, and it was accepted for processing at the beginning of December.

Rae said the council allocated additional staff, including senior consents staff, to progress the application, liaise with the applicant and ensure the right information was supplied to progress the consent. "Council records show more than 100 emails as well as face-to-face meetings."

The Mathiesons wanted to purchase another location on Innes Rd to relocate their second preschool. They had to show it was "like for like" with the old one for the purchase to be covered by insurance.

It took Vero 2 months to make a decision on this, which meant the Mathiesons missed out on an offer to buy the place and had to lease instead. Vero covered most of the 18 months business interruption claim, but disputed some of the costs related to setting up the new preschool on Innes Rd.

The Mathiesons said Vero denied coverage for about $300,000 worth of costs, which forced them to take on a loan and extend their overdraft.

A Vero spokesperson said the company was in negotiations with the Mathiesons on the remaining 10 per cent of their claims, which related to business interruption.

"The Mathiesons, whose claims relate to damage suffered in the February 2011 earthquake, were paid out more than $4 million of their claim during 2012."

Neil said most of the insurance payout was used to keep paying staff while the business was closed. The Mathiesons said the bank was now losing patience as they struggled to keep the business afloat.