Blame, anger over claims rises

CHARLES ANDERSON AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014

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Christchurch homeowners say they have no confidence in insurers settling their earthquake claims before a promised deadline of 2016.

New figures released by the Insurance Council yesterday revealed less than half of all cap claims had been settled since Canterbury's earthquakes.

About 54 per cent of the 86,887 claims with insurance companies had been settled - most of which involved out of scope claims such as driveways and swimming pools - and only 9110 of 21,962 over cap claims (41.5 per cent), made up of larger repairs and rebuilds, had been settled.

Peter Glasson, who organised a meeting of more than 300 disgruntled Southern Response claimants last night, said he believed insurers were purposely delaying claims in the hope homeowners would give up and accept low offers for their quake-damaged properties.

"We don't have any confidence that the claims will be settled by 2016," he said.

"Southern Response had 25 claims settled last month, but it received 50 claims, so they've actually gone backwards. That will continue to grow as EQC works through those much harder claims."

Insurance commentator Cam Preston said the Insurance Council had made a "ridiculous promise" on behalf of its members.

In October last year, the council estimated insurers would have completed 1500 repairs by the end of 2013, but in reality only half that number were finished.

Preston believed insurers could meet the 2016 deadline only if they pushed people into cash settlements.

"People will probably, by the end of 2016, have had an absolute gutsful of waiting around for nothing and will just take the low-ball offer," he said. "So they might actually achieve it by doing absolutely nothing, but it's a horrible way to go about it."

Lyttelton homeowner Mark Gilmour said insurers had "no chance" of meeting the 2016 deadline, after he and his wife, Althea Kallas, waited two years for EQC and Southern Response to decide whether their claim was over cap.

"Finally EQC came round to start the job and realised there was a lot more that needed to be done," Kallas said.

"There's so many people who don't have the time to fight the bureaucratic nightmare. How they do it, I don't know," Gilmour said.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton insisted insurers were still on track to meet the 2016 deadline. He said 2014 was expected to be a big year for the residential rebuild, after the $1.5 billion paid out last year.

"The key thing for the recovery is going to be issues that are not simply insurer and EQC issues but local and central government coming to party to keep the momentum going."

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There were delays caused by issues outside the insurers' control including liability around replacing homes in flood risk areas and ongoing reports into land stability in the Port Hills, Grafton said.

"There is uncertainty but a there is a very strong will to address these uncertainties."

Grafton said people who felt like they were in a "deadlock" with insurers should go to the Residential Advisory Service which had independent experts to assess each case. He discouraged legal avenues saying there were "claim farmers" that were simply encouraging more business.

"If you have take that route it is costly - it adds to delays."

The figures show that the majority of Canterbury commercial claims have also been settled, with than $2 billion paid out including three of the largest in New Zealand history.

These were the Ports of Lyttleton ($438 million), the Canterbury District Health Board ($320m) and Housing New Zealand ($320m).

- The Press

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