Call for council backing on quake-insurance tribunal

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 10/07/2012
Glenn Livingstone
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
NO UNITY: Christchurch city councillor Glenn Livingstone.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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A Christchurch City councillor pushing for an independent insurance tribunal hopes the council will back his bid.

Cr Glenn Livingstone said yesterday that he would seek councillors' approval at Thursday's meeting for a letter to be sent from the council to the Office of the Insurance Ombudsman. The letter would formally request the establishment of a special tribunal in Christchurch to deal with earthquake-related insurance problems.

Livingstone, who represents the hard-hit Burwood-Pegasus ward, said far too many people in Christchurch were battling with their insurance companies and unable to reach agreement on what should happen with their homes.

Some had been told they might have to wait up to five years for a decision; others that it could be seven years before their home was repaired.

"That's not on," Livingstone said. "People deserve better than that."

The Wellington-based Office of the Insurance Ombudsman was geographically too detached from the situation, he said.

A Christchurch-based tribunal, similar in nature to the Weathertight Homes Tribunal, would provide residents with a more accessible and timely means of redress.

"We need to hold private insurance companies to account. People have paid their premiums in good faith and they deserve to have their claims dealt with fairly and promptly," Livingstone said.

WeCan lobby group spokesman Mike Coleman said: "People are going to be waiting year upon year to get assessed. Something needs to happen, and the only way we can do it is for a commission to have some statutory power to assess the EQC [Earthquake Commission] and insurance companies and hold them to account."

Insurance Ombudsman Karen Stevens said she had yet to be convinced of the need for a tribunal.

It was unclear who would administer it and who would insure its independence, she said.

"It is a very well-intentioned idea, but what concerns me is who will end up paying for it."

Her office was monitoring the situation in Christchurch and was not averse to establishing a permanent office in the city, but she did not believe it was necessary at this stage.

"Most of the insurers that belong to our scheme hope to process most of their claims by the end of the year," Stevens said.

It was only once claims had been settled and people had exhausted all their insurance company's internal complaints procedures that the Insurance Ombudsman's Office could get involved, she said.

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The Insurance Ombudsman has fielded 644 inquiries from quake-hit residents concerned by the behaviour of their insurance company. Only 33 of those inquiries resulted in formal complaints and investigations.

- The Press

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