Communication problems persist

Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

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OPINION: Somehow, it is no surprise that EQC provided the wrong information to its minister, Gerry Brownlee, before he went into Parliament on Tuesday and lambasted Labour politicians about how hard they have been working on behalf of quake-affected constituents. EQC has got a poor track record when it comes to communicating with what are known in officialese as its "stakeholders". This is not the first time it has misled Brownlee and he is justified in feeling "totally let down" by EQC officials.

Brownlee's fiery and, as it turns out, totally unjustified attack on Labour came after Labour MP Ruth Dyson and party leader David Cunliffe called media to the quake-damaged home of 85-year-old Dot Boyd, who had spent three years being pushed from pillar to post by EQC. Brownlee called the photo opportunity "despicable". He said that Labour had not raised Boyd's case with EQC before going to the media, and had lodged just five requests for assistance on behalf of their constituents. This was untrue. Lianne Dalziel went to EQC about Boyd's case as long ago as June last year, when Dalziel was still a Labour MP, but no action was taken. An apologetic Brownlee has also now conceded that, based on EQC advice, he understated the number of requests by Labour MPs - by hundreds.

This latest EQC gaffe comes just five months after EQC misinformed Brownlee about a survey which showed 80 per cent of homeowners who had repairs done in 2013 were satisfied with results. It soon emerged that 31,000 claimants - many of whom had made complaints - had been excluded from that survey. Also last year, EQC accidentally released personal details of 83,000 clients, but mistakenly advised at first that only 9700 had been affected. A report by the Chief Ombudsman and Privacy Commission in December lambasted EQC's "over-complicated and risk averse" approach to handling information requests from customers, which has led to a backlog which will still take until April to clear.

EQC's response when its performance is criticised is that the home-repair programme is unprecedented anywhere, and that its planning was based on a worst-case scenario of 150,000 claims, whereas 470,000 claims have resulted from the Canterbury earthquakes. The problem is that, three years after the February 2011 disaster, such excuses have been worn tissue-thin.

To give EQC its due, as of yesterday it had completed 51,552 full repairs, 47,391 emergency repairs, and 5228 home repairs for vulnerable people. Dot Boyd might have been pushed from pillar to post, but plenty of others like her have been looked after. Overall, 50 per cent of the building "exposures" on its claims file have been dealt with. Progress is being made. But when it comes to communicating with people there are still systemic problems, obviously. Seven hundred people are still waiting for overdue responses to information requests and, when EQC can't even give a correct response to a simple question from its minister, what faith can we put in anything it says?

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- The Press

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