Chch rebuild: House repair work winding down

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014

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Fletcher EQR has told builders working on the Christchurch rebuild to start looking for work elsewhere because home repairs are winding down.

Two contractors, speaking anonymously, said Fletcher EQR, which is contracted to manage repairs, last week apologised to a group of its preferred contractors in Christchurch because it would not be able to give them as much work as promised.

One of them, who has worked for Fletcher since the start of the repair programme, said the announcement came as a surprise.

"They told us last week that they couldn't guarantee us work because EQC had not given them the jobs," he said, speaking anonymously.

"I reckon EQC want to shortcut the circuit, take it away from Fletchers and pay cash to homeowners to save a lot of money."

About 13,000 homes are still to be repaired and some owners fear they may be forced into cash settlements.

Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network (CanCern) spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said dozens of owners had this year been pushed to accept a cash settlement when they would rather have had their house repaired.

Some had reported intimidating practices, while others had received cheques from EQC or sums of money in their bank accounts even though they had not opted out of the programme.

Changes to EQC's opt-out scheme, introduced in February this year, meant 26,000 more Canterbury homeowners could claim cash in lieu of quake repairs. Previously, only claims where damage was assessed at under $15,000 could be cash settled. Quake advocates warned at the time that accepting settlements could leave homeowners out of pocket.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said it was concerning to hear of instances where customers received a settlement "out of the blue".

"Our standard practice is for an estimator or assessor to have communicated with the customer in person, on site, or by phone. We encourage customers who have concerns around their settlement to get in touch with us," he said.

EQC would repair all properties in the programme, "unless the homeowner opts out, or there are reasons for cash settlement such as complex pre-existing building defects".

"If it becomes necessary to continue repairs into early 2015, EQC will do that," Simpson said.

However, EQC would normally choose to cash-settle homes with pre-existing risk factors, because work on these homes could be "fraught with legal risk", he said. About 600 of the 9962 homes that had been cash-settled so far were in this category.

Figures from EQC showed so far this year, 89 properties had been cash settled due to pre-existing issues, and 3251 customers had chosen to opt out of the repair programme.

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To claims that EQC would save money by cash-settling, Simpson said the costs for repairing earthquake damage would be the same, regardless of whether EQC did the repairs or cash-settled.

A spokeswoman said there were about 70,000 houses in the repair programme, and just over 57,000 of these were either repaired or had repairs underway, leaving about 13,000 to be repaired through Fletcher EQR.

Fletcher EQR chief communications manager Barry Akers said the repair programme would be completed at the end of this year, and Fletcher had already informed contractors about the workload slowing down.

"You can't maintain the same level of workload for contractors when the programme is coming to an end."

Curtis said homeowners should not be pushed into cash settlements.

"To suddenly be confronted with a sum of money in your bank account with very little warning for some and even less idea of what the settlement covers has proven to be a stressful situation."

Curtis said vulnerable home owners might be cash settled without consideration given to their ability to manage the repair independently.

- Sunday Star Times

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