EQC vows to clear information backlog

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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The Earthquake Commission still has an "eye-wateringly huge" backlog of official information requests but insists they will be cleared by April.

The Chief Ombudsman has applauded EQC for the improvements made since a damning report into the department's failures under the Official Information Act (OIA) was released late last year.

However, a Labour MP and a Christchurch earthquake advocacy group have been waiting 200 working days for a response to an OIA request first filed in May - by law a response must be provided within 20 working days. The lack of access to official information following the quakes has frustrated homeowners.

A recent Human Rights Commission report found people's basic right to access information had been violated, and the joint report by the Chief Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner found EQC had "a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive in the dissemination of claim-related information".

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said EQC was on track to clear its backlog. New requests were being responded to within the required timeframe.

Figures released by the Ombudsman showed that in 2012 it received 785 complaints about EQC and last year it received 737. Since January 2012, EQC has received more than 6500 OIA requests. In the three years before the September 2010 quake, it received 27.

"EQC is definitely bearing the brunt of this... they have been in catch-up mode ever since the earthquake hit," Wakem said.

Most complaints related to the quality of repairs being undertaken and the "general quality of service".

She said that although she was happy with the improvements already made, there was "always room for more".

"We have to remember that at the other end of this, there are people who are hurting that deserve our sympathy and utmost energy."

The Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) lodged an OIA request to EQC last year but Labour's EQC spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, took it on after the group was told it would cost $24,000 to complete. The request featured 83 questions about EQC's processes and decisions after the earthquakes.

It asked EQC how it came to appoint Fletchers as its main service provider and how many homes in each land category had been repaired.

Yesterday marked 200 working days since the original request was lodged.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press the request required a lot of information to be collated. He said staff at EQC were working hard to process it.

EQC customer and claims manager Gail Kettle said the OIA request backlog reached its peak in September at 1300. It was currently sitting at 800. Since then EQC had processed 1250 new requests within the required timeline.

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"It's getting better... but the numbers are still eye-wateringly huge."

More staff had been taken on to manage requests and customers were also encouraged to phone the call centre and ask for the information they wanted instead of filing an OIA request.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said poor communication between agencies involved in the recovery - the council, EQC, insurance companies, the Government and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority - added "extra complexity and confusion to an environment already under enormous stress".

- The Press

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