Cantabrians' anger over EQC lingers
On September 4, 2010, a 7.1magnitude earthquake shook the ground beneath Christchurch more strongly than it had for thousands of years.
Exactly two years on, half the city's quake-hit homeowners are unhappy with the Earthquake Commission's performance.
The Press has commissioned a survey of Christchurch residents' satisfaction with EQC and the private insurance market.
The results are harsh, empirical evidence that neither is performing as it should.
Fifty per cent of those with an EQC property claim expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the commission's performance.
Within that, more than half were "very" or "extremely" dissatisfied.
Conversely, less than one third - 29 per cent - said they were "very" or "extremely" satisfied.
Disorganisation, delays and a lack of communication were the most cited reasons for customers' frustration.
Almost one third of property claimants - 30 per cent - said they could not move on with their lives.
EQC Canterbury events manager Reid Stiven acknowledged the numbers were not good enough. "Obviously we'd like [satisfaction] to be much higher that that."
Poor communication was the commission's biggest problem, he said.
"We've acknowledged from day one that . . . our ability to communicate and get information out to our customers was poor.
"Absolutely we've made some mistakes, but we don't sit on our hands."
Changes included opening a claims processing office in Hamilton and bringing a call centre based in Brisbane back to New Zealand.
"All of the Christchurch claims that were dealt with in Brisbane will be dealt with by Kiwis in Hamilton, which we
think will be much more satisfactory."
The number of people who felt their property claim stopped them from moving on with their life was also a concern, Stiven said.
"If that's what it's saying, then we have to accept that. Maybe that comes back to our ability to communicate the bigger picture to people."
Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network (CanCERN) spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said the numbers were a "pretty fair reflection of what we're seeing".
"EQC have got an awful lot of systemic issues that have just made things very difficult and a huge cause of frustration. I understand they had to ramp up really quickly and become a huge organisation . . . but the frustration has been put to them . . . and there has been very little evidence of them responding."Bad communication was the biggest issue she said.
"It's been confusing, it's been contradictory, it's been vague [and] it hasn't been timely. EQC has been incredibly difficult for the individual to communicate with."
Last week CanCERN put its concerns to EQC chief executive Ian Simpson in a "positive" meeting, Curtis said, but the problems were deep-seated.
"We've yet to see evidence of [improvement]. We hope to.
"EQC's fallback has always been there's been thousands of claims, and it's huge and it's unprecedented . . . but trying to justify why things are crap based on that fact that it's a big job doesn't really cut it, because everybody's got a big job."
The commission fared better on contents claims.
Last year EQC prioritised this business, where it pays up to $20,000 per customer, with the goal of settling all claims by Christmas.
Some customers did not provide timely information to make this happen, but most did.
The higher claims settlement was reflected in satisfaction levels - three-quarters of those who had lodged a claim were happy with EQC's performance and the portion who were "very" or "extremely" dissatisfied dropped to just 9 per cent.
The Press will publish survey results this week and next Thursday's edition will look at satisfaction levels based on EQC customers' age and location.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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