Insurance service tackles 80 cases

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2014
Rev Mike Coleman
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
QUAKE ADVOCATE: Mike Coleman.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Mike Coleman is promising to tone it down.

The outspoken community advocate last year quit the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network to focus his energy on his role as chairman of the Canterbury Insurance Assistance Service (CIAS).

He hoped the "good faith" gesture would improve the relationship with insurers and the Earthquake Commission (EQC), with whom the city council-funded service must work to resolve quake-related insurance disputes for vulnerable customers.

The service launched last year and had taken on about 80 cases, but only recently finalised its trust board and charitable status.

Voluntary trustees include Rebuild Christchurch founder Deon Swiggs, banking and property consultant David McDonald and financial consultant Jacob Wolt.

City councillor Ali Jones resigned last year during her own public insurance dispute with Southern Response. Lorraine Guthrie has been employed as project facilitator and two case facilitators started this month.

Coleman said "advocacy" was dropped from the service's original title because the term was misunderstood.

CIAS was "not at all an activist group", he said.

"Advocacy was somehow seen as taking people to litigation, and that's not at all the way we understood it.

"We really meant that we were assisting people with their claim to get fairness - both for the insurance company and the client.

"If they're not entitled to it, we're certainly not wanting anything more than they should be getting."

Coleman expected CIAS would work closely with the Government's Residential Advisory Service (RAS) by providing one-on-one support and assistance.

CIAS did not have the finances to take on every case and had a strict criteria. Priority was given to the especially vulnerable, mainly the elderly and those with health and stress-related issues.

Coleman said he had publicly "challenged" insurers in the past, but could not be an activist and "do this level of advocacy at the same time".

"I wanted to show the insurance companies and EQC that I'm acting in good faith, that I'm not going to attack them, [and] that [the trustees] are genuinely wanting to help people move forward."

CIAS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Earthquake Commission and Coleman hoped a formal agreement could be reached with insurers.

"They've got nothing to be scared of from us. We're going to act very professionally and sensibly."

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Insurance Council spokesman Samson Samasoni said insurers would not be signing an MOU, but each company would make its own decision about the working relationship with CIAS.

He encouraged the use of RAS, which had built up "significant experience and expertise" in the past 10 months.

"Customers are reporting positive results about their experience of RAS in helping work through complicated issues with their insurer," Samasoni said.

- The Press

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