EQC may get help to meet deadlines

The Government may call in other departments to help the Earthquake Commission with its "continued inability" to process official information requests on time.

The Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner are investigating EQC's failure to respond to requests under the Official Information Act (OIA) within the required 20 working days.

The commission has been swamped with requests from Cantabrians seeking more information on their insurance claims.

The investigation came after Christchurch homeowner Brent Hamlin laid a complaint with the Ombudsman that he had struggled for six months to get information on his EQC claim.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem responded in a letter to Hamlin:

"Given EQC's continued inability to comply with its obligations under the Official Information Act and Privacy Act, I will be undertaking an investigation."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the process needed to improve and other government departments were being considered to assist.

"We do need to find a different way of dealing with this because of the vast volume."

However, he believed EQC staff were "doing not a bad job".

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said more staff were being recruited and trained.

"We are in the process of reaching out across other government agencies for support and to help provide us with additional resources.

At present, 17 staff handled OIA requests, he said, but pulling in more from other parts of EQC would delay claims processing.

A plan to contact all customers and advise them of their claim progress should reduce the rate of OIA requests, he said. "Most customers want their scope of works and, in most cases, we can provide this without need for recourse to the Official Information Act."

Since September 2010, EQC has received more than 5000 OIA requests, compared with just 50 for the 23 years before.

"We have made no secret that we have been receiving OIA requests at volumes that have completely overwhelmed our capacity to process them," Simpson said.

EQC had been discussing the issue with the Ombudsman's Office and Privacy Commissioner for "many months", he said, and any outcomes from the investigation that helped EQC process OIA requests faster would be welcomed.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman and Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel said Hamlin's case was not isolated.

"More than 2000 New Zealanders have signed an online petition calling on Brownlee to urgently amend the EQC claims management process.

"Labour MPs have been calling for information to be freely available to affected residents right from the outset.

"It is ridiculous that people are told they need to use the Offic ial Information Act when a quick phone call would do," Dalziel said.


The Press