Call for EQC management to go

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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The man who ran for the Christchurch mayoralty, standing for residents badly treated by organisations such as the Earthquake Commission, wants its Christchurch management to go after a damning report.

South Brighton resident Hugo Kristinsson said he had been battling to get "relatively straightforward" information from EQC for months and there seemed to be ongoing resistance to provide it. "I have fielded numerous requests with very little joy from EQC," he said yesterday.

Kristinsson, who polled fourth in the mayoral race with 988 votes, has had little success getting information from EQC and other government agencies.

"They have used the OIA [Official Information Act] as a tool for delays rather than a tool for information."

Like many others, he said he had waited several months for "what is very basic information". Kristinsson said it was important to keep talking about the issue because that was the only way to solve it.

EQC should front up and provide essential information like its geotechnical database so all homeowners could have the information they needed to get on with their lives.

He also said Christchurch management should be replaced because its "leadership" had failed too many people too often.

"What has happened here is not excusable under any circumstances."

Former Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) spokesman, the Rev Mike Coleman, agreed changes were needed locally.

His group had waited more than 150 days on its information request and asked Labour's EQC spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, to intervene after they were told the request would cost more than $20,000 to process.

REPORT CANES EQC FOR SLOW RESPONSE

A long backlog of information requests from Earthquake Commission (EQC) customers should be cleared by April - but a high-level probe said it failed to predict and plan for them after the first Canterbury earthquake struck more than three years ago.

The joint report by the Chief Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner has thumped the Earthquake Commission (EQC) over mishandling information requests due to its "over-complicated and risk-averse approach".

Labour's EQC spokesman Clayton Cosgrove called the report "embarrassing" and said Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee needed to do "a lot of soul searching" over its findings. Brownlee was not available for comment.

While it said EQC was working in extraordinary times, it should have foreseen the steep increase in information requests, the report said.

While it applauded EQC's "unrelenting" focus on its home-repair programme, the danger was it could lead to seeing "home repair" and "access to information" as competing priorities "rather than complementary essentials."

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EQC adopted "an over-complicated and risk-adverse approach" to responding to information requests, the probe found.

It also had "a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive in the dissemination of claim-related information."

Demand for information rose sharply, from 50 to 70 new requests a week in August-October 2012 to more than 160 a week in November-December 2012.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said he agreed with the recommendations in the report and EQC had beefed up staffing to handle the requests. The report said it could have taken just two to three months to get the backlog cleared.

In August, the commission launched a "concerted effort" to clear that backlog and it was now meeting all new customer information requests within statutory timeframes, Simpson said.

It had 32 staff working "exclusively" on information requests and another eight staff started in January.

"This gives us the capacity to clear the backlog and to meet future spikes in demand," Simpson said.

EQC had made no secret it had struggled to meet the very large number of Official Information Act (OIA) requests.

"We understand the frustrations that people seeking information have experienced and we thank the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner for the constructive dialogue in recent months while we have put in place business initiatives to manage this situation."

The report's conclusions said EQC "could and should" have avoided the ongoing non-compliance with the OIA and Privacy Act requests and it was surprised the EQC website had stayed "relatively generic" three years after the first earthquake.

Among the 13 recommendations were:

Streamlining the processing of requests for claim file information. Improving the quality of information and overall service call centre staff can provide. Consider automatic access of property reports to customers. Improve its website content.

The report was sparked after EQC began regularly breaching access to OIA requests and culminated when EQC advised people there would be a six to seven-month delay before it could respond to requests.

Under law, it must respond within 20 working days.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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