EQC 'suboptimal' and 'substandard' - report

An independent report has found major failings in the way the Earthquake Commission (EQC) handles its customers.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford says changes should be made to the model as soon as possible to avoid causing further distress to homeowners. 

The review found EQC's organisation structure was "suboptimal" and required change. It said time management was "substandard". 

Staff interactions with homeowners lacked consistency, timeliness and empathy, and information management was "inefficient and ineffective".

"Customer interactions have become secondary and have not met the expectations of our customers," the report said.

EQC received a high volume of multiple complaints compared with other organisations and a change in the complaints process was required.

The report was released without publicity on EQC's website last week after the Ombudsman strongly recommended it be made it public. It was not visible on the site's main page and no media release announced its publication online.

The Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, community leaders and advocates welcomed the report and agreed changes should be made swiftly.

EQC customer and claims general manager Gail Kettle said EQC commissioned the report last year to improve its handling of customers. 

She said EQC's post-quake work had been "a huge task" and the organisation was committed to improvement.

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The report gave a clear set of recommendations and the organisation had already starting implementing short-term goals, she said.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the report confirmed criticism from the community that Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had "rubbished" on many occasions.

"I find it bizarre that last week Brownlee said there would only be minor changes to EQC's model following his own review," Cosgrove said.

"He might want to read the independent report that was released in the dead of the night."

Brownlee said he was "very happy" EQC commissioned the report. 

"We've always been very upfront about how government agencies have responded to the Canterbury earthquakes and where things can be learned from congregating a range of information and experiences such as this we'll do that, as EQC is doing in this case."

Rutherford said EQC needed to make recommended changes as soon as possible.

"Failing to do so will affect the mental health of customers who are not properly managed," he said.

Rutherford was disappointed the report had not been widely publicised.

"There is nothing in that report that will be news to homeowners, but it would be of some comfort if the report was published more widely."

Wakem said she had "strongly advised" EQC to release the report publicly and was disappointed in its "very low-key launch".

Christchurch City councillor Ali Jones, who is enduring her own insurance battle, said the report was "the best thing to have come out of EQC to date". 

She hoped the recommendations would be implemented "so that people are put first and information flow is consistent, clear, regular and correct". 

"It's such a shame those who can, don't trumpet reports like this," she said.

Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said the report showed EQC had failed to handle their customers properly.

"As a homeowner, this report tells my story," she said.

"It sums up quite well how homeowners feel about EQC.".

REPORTS ON EQC PERFORMANCE

Monitoring Human Rights in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery (December 2013)

- Found lack of access to information and unnecessary delays

Office of the Auditor-General: Earthquake Commission: managing the Canterbury Home Repair Programme (October 2013)

- Found inconsistencies in information provided to claimants and processes, and lack of certainty. EQC had not adequately kept homeowners informed

Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner: Information Fault lines - Accessing EQC information in Canterbury (November 2013)

- Found OIA requests and processes over complicated and risk averse.

There were delays, poor communication and more training was needed.

 - The Press

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