Plea to insurers: honour your policies

20:56, Oct 01 2013
Storage container
COULD BE COSTLY: A storage container is craned on to a site ahead of house repairs.

What a difference friendly, personal, efficient service makes. How stressful and frustrating it is when you are battling a big organisation.

More than three years after the September 4, 2010 earthquake, Christchurch and Canterbury people are still battling EQC and insurance companies.

Some people have horror stories of insurance companies refusing to pay out adequately and on time.

We are delighted that, finally, our place will be repaired.

No matter that our neighbours' places were fixed ages ago; the whole EQC process is random. It is great to have some action.

Damage is only minor, and we are looking forward to getting the inside plastered and repainted, as well as having some floors, windows, ceilings, and cladding repaired. We have no complaints about the EQR- Fletchers team organising the work so far.

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We have to move everything out. But we hit a snag: Who pays for shifting and storing our contents while we are out of the house for three to four weeks? That's up to our insurance company, said Fletchers-EQR. No, it's up to Fletchers-EQR, said Tower Insurance.

To and fro. Tower is being sticky, said Fletchers. EQR has changed the rules, said Tower.

Our insurance policy is old and does not cover storage, said Tower after another call.

How would we know? We just renewed our policy. Premiums have gone up. We read the policy. The wording appears to indicate that we are covered.

"We [the company] pay . . . up to $2500 in total to move contents to a secure storage facility and for storage costs while you are in alternative accommodation and to return them to the house."

One would reasonably expect storage to be covered. It seemed apparently not.

Tower will cover temporary accommodation up to $200 a night.

The crazy thing is that we wouldn't spend nearly the full amount in the repair period, so the difference could cover storage costs.

Containers cost about $360 to $500 if stored on your property for a month, including delivery and removal.

This does not include packing and shifting your contents.

Removal companies charge about $130 an hour. Then there is the cost of materials. All up, the cost of storage could exceed $2500.

We don't have burly family members to help us, and I don't want to risk another back injury by lugging heavy furniture myself.

If you have your contents moved off site, your insurance policy may not provide coverage while in transit, as our neighbour discovered.

The cost of separate insurance with a removals company could be $400. On top of this, homeowners still have to pay EQC excess for repairs.

Thousands of people affected by the earthquakes have had to pack up and move. One woman said she was totally stressed out and in tears.

We bought our insurance policies from TSB Bank, although cover is actually provided by Tower.

We like TSB. You get through to a real person straight away. You are not pressing umpteen menu options and being put on hold "due to exceptionally high call volumes".

Carmen at TSB was sympathetic. So was Lorane at EQR. She encouraged us to speak to a manager at Tower.

Once through the Tower menu system and being put on hold, Luanshya told us that someone would call back between 2pm and 5pm. No-one did.

Our lawyer, Richard Gray, a partner at Meares Williams, suggested contacting the insurance ombudsman (iombudsman.org.nz, 0800 888 202). The website has lots of advice on Canterbury earthquake claims. Sophie at the ombudsman's office said she would email information on how to make an official complaint.

The next day Jo, a team leader at Tower, called. She was friendly, helpful, and apologetic. It appeared the policy we had - supplied by TSB Bank - was incorrect. We do not understand why, and neither did TSB. However, Tower will now cover our storage costs after all. Thank you, Jo.

This issue may seem like small beer compared with what some people are facing, so we feel a little embarrassed making a fuss. This is a Kiwi trait. For example, if they get bad service at a restaurant. Kiwis tend to put up with it. They simply don't go back, or go elsewhere.

The converse also applies. Good service stands out. You go back. You tell other people.

My plea to insurance companies: Honour your policies. Clarify. Communicate. Listen to your clients.

They fund your future.

My plea to homeowners: Check your policy wording carefully and confirm what is covered before repairs begin. If you feel you have had a raw deal, speak out. Be firm but polite and stand your ground.

Take a deep breath. Plan a getaway out of Christchurch, or at least a stress break. You deserve it.

The Press