EQC seeks advice over postings
The Earthquake Commission is in legal talks over online postings that name commission staff and recommend that people do not allow them on their property.
Christchurch company Consumer Advocates Ltd, which acts on behalf of people disputing EQC claims, has posted names and photographs of commission engineers online, advising people to deny them entry to their property.
The commission says the postings may be defamatory and it is considering legal action.
One online post reads: "Consumer Advocates recommends denying this man [name removed], from EQC, access to your property. He is subject to a considerable amount of dispute over what he commonly calls pre-existing damage.
"If he arrives at your house call 0800 DAMAGE and request EQC send an alternative.
"He quite often is paired with [name removed], another EQC representative we recommend you refuse entry to."
It also advised people to request evidence of the inspector's professional indemnity insurance provider.
"Don't let them in until they have fronted with it," it said. "Once you have any details we would welcome them so we can start to apply accountability pressure on these guys. EQC will not budge, but if these guys lose their [professional indemnity] insurance they will be out of business."
Another series of images on the website showed what was apparently an EQC engineer's house, claiming the staff member was living in an "unsafe house".
EQC spokesman Bruce Emson said the commission was looking at what legal action it could take over the postings.
"EQC is in discussions with our legal advisers on action we can take over what we view as defamatory statements and on what steps we can take to protect our staff from harm as they go about their jobs."
He said the commission had more than 150,000 customers and not all of them were going to be happy all the time, but that was no excuse for targeting staff members.
"However, it is one thing to go online and attack EQC as an organisation and quite another to single out individual staff and post details about them which potentially expose them to harassment or physical harm," he said.
Consumer Advocates owner Victor Cattermole said the postings were based on his and his clients' experiences in dealing with the commission.
"We help over 500 homeowners and these are the names that people are coming up with. We recommend people don't use them or let them on their property, from our experience," he said.
"If you drill down into a lot of complaints and stories, it's the same names that keep popping up behind it all."
He said there were many more staff members and other businesses that he recommended to clients of Consumer Advocates not to use.
Cattermole was not concerned about questions of privacy or defamation and said the EQC had not asked him to take down any of the information.
"They're public profiles on websites that we've taken the photos off. We're just giving people a warning."
He hoped the commission would look into the complaints against certain staff members.
Emson said Cattermole was the one who stood to gain from the postings.
"It is also worth remembering that Victor Cattermole, as a person running a for-profit advocacy service, stands to financially benefit from encouraging customers into a position where they do not engage directly with EQC staff," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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