Insurance advocacy service pruned

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2012
Gerry Brownlee
Carys Monteath
Gerry Brownlee

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An insurance advocacy service for quake-hit Cantabrians will be smaller than originally planned, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

In July the Christchurch City Council voted unanimously to ask the minister to establish an insurance tribunal and advocacy service in the city.

The service was being managed by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and would help residents battling for information about when, or if, their homes would be repaired.

A spokesman for Brownlee said the need for such a service was "no longer as great".

"The need is lesser than it was and the [service Cera is] designing will reflect that."

Cr Glenn Livingstone, who led the call for assistance, was frustrated the service would be scaled back. Christchurch's social and economic recovery depended on it, he said.

"[It] is needed to provide insurance breakthroughs - enabling people to have their homes fixed, keep their and their children's health intact and contribute to the local economy through increased productivity . . . "

People were still living in substandard housing and waiting to hear from their insurers, he said.

"Mental health providers tell me that, in Christchurch, insurance and housing difficulties account for most of their work."

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said it was needed now more than ever.

"We need to be beefing up all of the insurance advocacy . . . it is urgent. We have people struggling with insurance issues constantly."

People were feeling "powerless" and "stressed" when dealing with insurance companies. She said it was imperative a service was set up quickly because many people did not know their rights and were confused by legal terminology.

David Stringer, of advocacy group Insurance Watch, said homeowners were becoming increasingly cynical about claims the rebuild was ramping up.

"We're flat out advocating for people . . . there's still a massive need for support."

A Cera spokeswoman said the authority was working with insurers and the Earthquake Commission on developing the advocacy service.

More information would be available in the new year, she said.

"The key thing is that the service will be there to provide independent advice to people on insurance and related issues. It is obviously important that the service does not duplicate any existing advocacy services or dispute resolution schemes."

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