Thousands wait for quake repairs

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 08:12 27/03/2014

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More than 800 vulnerable Canterbury earthquake claimants are still to be fully settled by insurers.

The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) estimates, combined with outstanding Earthquake Commission (EQC) claims, reveal more than 5000 of the region's most at-risk residents are awaiting the repair or rebuild of their damaged homes.

ICNZ spokesman Samson Samasoni said yesterday about 4200 customers who met a "wide-ranging" criteria for vulnerability had been identified in June last year.

By the end of the year, the number to be settled had been reduced by 79 per cent.

"Collectively, we estimate there are over 800 still to have their claim completely closed but because they're over-cap repairs or rebuilds it takes time, anything from nine to 12 months. Obviously cash settlements are faster but it's up to the customer to decide what option they choose," he said.

"We also know that some are awaiting land settlement compensation before making decisions on the offer insurers have made, so that may be a stumbling block to resolving their claim quickly."

Insurers "actively and regularly" engaged with community groups were "working tirelessly to address the needs of vulnerable customers", Samasoni said.

EQC figures from February showed 4220 deemed vulnerable were awaiting repair and 866 were under construction. A further 7297 claims were settled.

Canterbury home repair programme manager Reid Stiven said that since mid-January about 1500 new vulnerable customers had been identified through work with health and social services.

"It's often very difficult to identify vulnerability, without the help of both the people themselves and the community, and we are continuing to push this message throughout Canterbury to ensure these customers are identified and subsequently, prioritised," he said.

Labour EQC spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said EQC had "dropped the ball", pointing to the recent of case of Christchurch pensioner Dot Boyd, whose claim fell through the cracks.

"That doesn't fill me full of a great deal of faith that they've identified all the vulnerable cases. Likewise, insurance companies in general have been found wanting," he said. Although accepting some claims were complex, Cosgrove said there were no excuses for delays in the vulnerable cases he knew of.

"Ring up, knock on doors, go out and see people. When they say, ‘Don't worry sonny, there's somebody worse off than me' say, ‘no, we've got some basic information now tell us exactly what's happening'. Be proactive and have an ethic of customer service. That would be a radical change for the insurance industry."

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Southern Response confirmed 310 customers had been identified as vulnerable through a criteria that included age, health, stress, disability or an "inability to comprehend and other similar cognitive issues".

"We haven't found them all and we encourage customers who are vulnerable or know someone that is a Southern Response customer who is vulnerable to let us know," chief executive Peter Rose said.

Staff from Southern Response and project managers Arrow had received training to help identify such cases.

"Since last year we have identified [the vulnerable] need more support, often to make decisions, or comprehending the process. The issue has been where people cannot make decisions, but not already noted as vulnerable."

IAG did not provide specific figures, but spokeswoman Renee Walker said a "large percentage" of claims relating to vulnerable households had been settled.

However, "a number" with "complex" claims, including multi-unit buildings, were still working through a settlement process.

"One of the challenges setting priority based on vulnerability is that it does rely on a certain element of self-selection," Walker said.

"We can tell if a customer is elderly but we may not necessarily know if they have young children in the household, or health or financial pressures unless they tell us this."

- The Press

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