Cantabrians should lobby the Minister for Earthquake Recovery if they want the EQC claims management system reviewed, writes public law specialist Mai Chen.
OPINION: Feedback on my column last week on the Staples Earthquake Commission (EQC) information release was unanimous: The EQC claims management system is broken and needs to be fixed urgently.
The Cantabrians who responded say that EQC's process is too slow, and that the commission's repair, rebuild and settlement payments are unfair. EQC information on their claims is either wrong or confusing, or takes too long to get to them. Essentially, Cantabrians have lost confidence in the system.
How to fix it? Public law tools like the ombudsmen and auditor-general are slow due to limited resourcing and the huge volume of complaints and, being recommendatory, can't force an outcome. Litigation is expensive and can be slow.
Take the case of the O'Loughlins, who recently persuaded the High Court that Tower Insurance had not held up its end of the bargain on their insurance claim. The court's decision is only an interim one. It came after months of litigation and no doubt at very high cost to all parties involved. And it still is not over.
There are, however, tools the Government created specially for Canterbury after the earthquakes which can be used to fix the EQC claims system. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 gives Minister Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) extraordinary powers to deal with the extraordinary circumstances following the earthquakes. The minister has the power to recommend changes to existing laws or making new ones to "enable a focused, timely, and expedited recovery" (section 3 of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act).
An Order in Council on the EQC claims management process was put in place last year, exempting EQC from the requirement to make reinstatement payments within a year of the amount of damage being determined.
The Earthquake Recovery Review Panel reviewed and reported on the EQC order before it was finalised, concluding that the order should be reviewed in two years' time, and that "there be regular reporting on progress and that this information be shared with the review panel".
Cantabrians should lobby the minister to urgently review the EQC claims management system and, following advice from the review panel led by retired High Court Judge Sir John Hansen, ask Cabinet to quickly amend the existing EQC Order in Council, or enact a new order, to change the system and restore trust and confidence in EQC by:
Putting in place a quicker case management system with sufficient information management and human resources to ensure that the information provided by EQC is complete, accurate and consistent.
Making all information on individual claims (not just some of it) available to claimants online in order to ensure transparency in land and building damage assessments and the valuations used to determine repair, rebuild and settlement payments.
Establishing a quicker dispute resolution process for claimants.
Requiring EQC to report regularly to the review panel to help ensure ongoing compliance with the amended or new Order in Council.
* Mai Chen is managing partner at Chen Palmer, Public and Employment Law Specialists.
- The Press