How long is a piece of string?

00:50, Aug 07 2012

Will Harvie is on a well-deserved break so I'm filling in with a guest blog about my housing situation.

How long is a piece of string? Annoying little comment, isn't it? It means absolutely nothing and reminds me of pledges  from my insurance claims managers informing me they'll call back ''shortly''.

In my case, the longest ''shortly'' was a staggering five months, and that was despite my occasional email and phone call reminders.

This time we're at six weeks and still no call. I've checked my policy thoroughly and unfortunately there is no definition.

It might as well have a glossary that says: ''Shortly is as long as a piece of string.''

My insurance company is BNZ, underwritten by IAG. Considering the customer care I have had from IAG, it came as no surprise that they were rated the worst insurers by Insurance Watch this month.


The good news is that the fishheads are finally getting the message that something is deeply wrong.

Last month, Roger Sutton said insurers needed to provide clear time frames. He hit the nail on the head by saying ''a five-minute conversation'' would take a massive amount of stress off residents.

Even Gerry Brownlee has piped up, claiming he has ''lost his patience'' with insurance companies.

Finally, a handful of insurance companies fronted up to a group of elderly people with at least one company, IAG, admitting what we've known for almost two years: ''We haven't done enough''. No shit Sherlock.

An insurance lawyer told me insurance companies are not a charity. It's a valid point, but they are a business.

By accepting my fortnightly payments, they are accepting my business, and their business ought to include telling me what is going on with my claim.

I should explain that my quakehouse is unlivable. It is in St Albans on land classed as tehnical category2, green-yellow. We should be good to go.

However, there are complications. I am one of four adjoining units and between the four owners we have two insurance companies.

Two of us are with IAG and the other two are with Lumleys.

Initially, it seemed like that might be OK. The woman I dealt with at IAG was a dream. She said the two companies could share costs of an engineering report, and this happened.

Then she went to another department and the two units who were with IAG were given Claims Manager A.

After 18 dreadful months, I emailed and told him I was fed up with his lack of communication and included his bosses in the email.

One working day later I had been assigned a senior claims manager. I was high on the progress of it all. Something had happened ''shortly''.

Claims Manager B promptly emailed to say she would just come up to speed with the claim, ''hopefully make some progress where possible'' and ''be in contact with you shortly''.

After a month I emailed to ask if there was any update.

I have been met with a further two weeks of silence. I feel as broken as my house.

The units have been assessed by an architectural draftsman and EQC, and each unit has been assessed by engineers from each company. That was a year ago. We have been told we are up for a rebuild, not a repair, but also that nothing is definite.

Meanwhile, our house rots. It is the subject of break-ins, an eyesore and a dumping ground for shopping trolleys, mattresses and what looks like squashed mince.

People tell me the squeaky wheel gets the oil but I have lost the will to squeak.

My expectations are so low now that I'm not asking for much. All I'm after is someone to return with a call or an email. I want them to speak to each other in their own technical jargon and get back to me in a language I can understand. Even if the only answer is: ''We can't tell you anything this week.''

Anyway, if I have any progress, I'll be sure to get back to you shortly.

What has ''shortly'' meant to you?

The Press