'Threats' get claims considered
Earthquake Commission (EQC) customers can escalate the seriousness of their complaint by threatening media coverage, involving a lawyer or gaining ministerial intervention, official training documents suggest.
Media threats carried "serious reputational threats to EQC" while others were "simply an opportunity for customers to expedite their claims process", according to training documents released under the Official Information Act.
In certain cases, complaints were escalated on a scale ranging from "important" to "critical" - those assigned to the most senior investigator.
A "critical" complaint was one which had a "realistic possibility" of a major EQC error or creating a "widespread perception of a possible error that could lead to significant negative news coverage".
Complaints could be escalated to critical if a lawyer became involved - especially if the lawyer contacted EQC themselves and threatened legal action.
If a customer was still dealing with their claim themselves and only said they had appointed a lawyer, this was "serious" complaint only. A threat to involve lawyers was regarded as "important".
Any complaint from government ministers, the EQC chief executive or Earthquake Recovery Minster Gerry Brownlee was automatically upgraded to "serious" or "critical" because of the "sensitive nature of the political environment in which EQC operates".
The documents said complaints should be treated as "an event to educate the customer and give them an understanding of relevant issues".
Labour's EQC spokesman Clayton Cosgrove labelled the system as a "VIP list" that prioritised the risk to EQC's reputation above "the pain and suffering of claimants".
"If you can afford to hire a lawyer you get bumped up the queue . . . it's all about the minister [Brownlee] managing his reputation and that of his department."
He cited cases including Dot Boyd, 85, and Paulette Barr as "perfect examples".
Labour leader David Cunliffe visited Boyd's Aranui home this year. Her plight received significant coverage and within days EQC settled the case.
A teary-eyed Barr approached Prime Minister John Key at Westfield Riccarton this month asking for help with her over-cap insurance claim. Within hours she received a phone call confirming EQC had passed the claim over to NZI.
People should not have to threaten legal action or media coverage to be taken seriously, Cosgrove said.
EQC customer and claims general manager Gail Kettle said the intention of the document was to "assist with the definition and allocation of complaint according to its severity, including factors such as vulnerability and complexity". The main focus was to allocate complaints to the most "appropriate investigator". .