EQC staff can help relatives privately

Earthquake Commission (EQC) staff in Christchurch are allowed to assist family members with their claims but only in their private capacity, EQC says.

The matter came to light this week when a claimant, who asked not to be named, told The Press about an EQC assessor attending numerous EQC visits to her (the assessor's) elderly relative's home, apparently while working. The staff member often had another person in the car with her.

"She seemed to know the EQC people who came to look at the units. Definitely," the claimant said. It appeared more than coincidental, the claimant said, that assessors spent nearly two hours at the relative's unit inspecting land damage in July and about 10 minutes on the other units in the block.

The assessment found silt had accumulated under the elderly woman's unit but the other three units were supposed to be "visibly clear".

Further investigation by her own expert showed silt, land damage, mould and slime under all units.

The claimant, who is disputing EQC's assessment, said the EQC staff member had also looked at her claim file and encouraged her to settle for a repair rather than a rebuild.

"She came to my house in the afternoon I was there and said, ‘I know what's happening to your claim because I've seen it'. I was blown away."

The staff member told The Press that whatever she did, she had no way of influencing the process. She and EQC had parted company recently because her contract came to an end.

Gail Kettle, national customer and claims manager, said under EQC conflict of interest rules staff could help relatives but "they must not use internal EQC contacts to influence the claim process".

EQC's disclosure of conflict of interest policy applied to all staff, including permanent, fixed-term and casual EQC employees, contractors and temporary agency staff.

Once staff had declared a conflict of interest relating to their claim, it was flagged in the system and the claim was co-ordinated by a specialist team.

"Where employees are assigned work on a claim and they discover they know the people, for instance relatives or friends, they must immediately inform their manager and the claim is reassigned to another staff member."

She was aware of only two complaints or disputes about EQC staff claims, she said.

Staff could also notify complaints in the same way as the public but EQC had no ready way of identifying complaints or their nature via these other mechanisms.

Fairfax Media