Southern No Response queries unhappiness

ALI JONES
Last updated 07:56 03/02/2014
Southern Response protest
Ali Jones
PROTEST: A crowd has gathered outside the Southern Response offices late last year.

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OPINION: Late last month, Southern Response chief executive Peter Rose explained in our Perspective pages how the insurer was working through many complex issues, never before experienced anywhere. Today, PETER GLASSON and ALI JONES of the Southern No Response lobby group say the number of claimants turning to them is still growing every day.

It is very pleasing that after the two protests at the end of last year, Southern Response are committed to making changes to the way they have been doing things in order to resolve claims.

It is also pleasing that by the New Year, 14 cases have been resolved after intensive work by SR staff.

However, it is worth reminding Southern Response's chief executive, Peter Rose, that in December 2013, more than 100 people presented him with "one-pagers" - statements relating to their claim.

Now more than 200 are expected at a claimants' meeting on February 11 to discuss "where to next?" for those who have still not managed to progress or resolve their claims.

Our group is growing in number every day as tired and stressed Southern Response claimants seek support and knowledge outside their own personal networks to progress their claims, which in some cases remain unresolved after three years.

While Mr Rose has stated that SR is committed to making changes to the way they have been doing things, a significant proportion of the 100 people who formally submitted written forms to Peter Rose last December are still being stalled by Southern Response using deliberate delay and prevarication.

Southern No Response is concerned that after almost 3 1/2 years since the first earthquake, nothing or very little has been done for a significant number of Southern Response claimants still struggling to get their lives back.

As of December 31, 2013, 111 repairs and 180 rebuilds had been completed from a total claim pool of 6765. The rebuild and repair job ahead for Southern Response is mammoth.

We do not accept Mr Rose's suggestion that the "unknowns" in the aftermath of the earthquakes explain why claims have not been resolved or have taken so long. It is entirely spurious to suggest that the speed of claim resolution is related to experiencing things "for the first time anywhere in the world".

Earthquakes and other natural disasters regularly occur overseas. We are a country that has a high number of insured homes and although that resulted in a huge amount of work for Southern Response and other insurers, we paid premiums to an insurer in preparation for this very situation.

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It is well understood that the two insurers people are having the most trouble with regarding earthquake-related insurance claims are EQC and Southern Response.

We believe the main reasons for the poor performance are related to their processes, staff and insurance industry/organisation culture.

Southern Response's CEO has publicly stated that Southern Response has a responsibility to the taxpayer, which it does, but not over and above their responsibility to the claimant and the policy entitlement.

Has Mr Rose considered the enormous financial cost to SR (and taxpayers) resulting from project managers Arrow International and other consultants repeating technical assessments several times for the same claim? What about construction costs increasing daily as delays continue as well as the day-to-day costs of running Southern Response and its team, as well as using lawyers for non-legal tasks?

Mr Rose states that the current "formal dispute" rate is 3.5 per cent. A significant number of Southern Response claimants are not in the formal dispute process but are at the end of their tether with the stalling tactics of SR. In the latest newspaper advertisement, SR's CEO uses vague language to describe what his company has recently done. Closer analysis clearly shows he is only "considering", "exploring", and "developing". No action has in fact been taken.

Whereas we are pleased Peter Rose is liaising with the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (ISO) to enable that office to deal with any Southern Response claimant disputes, regardless of their value, we are unconvinced of the independence of the ISO given that it is funded by insurance companies and others in the insurance and financial sector.

The ISO upheld only 4 per cent of the complaints it received between 2011 and 2013 - ie, 96 per cent of those disputes were decided in favour of the insurance companies.

We believe Peter Rose should be looking more actively at SR's processes and staff and why so many people are dissatisfied rather than directing customers to yet another organisation. This is complex and difficult for claimants who are already stressed, and provides Southern Response additional opportunity to again delay claims, further wearing people down so they may (and people do) accept less than they are entitled to as they are just too tired to fight any more.

Southern No Response represents a number of Southern Response's house insurance claimants, and was established by Steve Gurney. Peter Glasson and Ali Jones are co- organisers of Southern No Response, working alongside Melanie Tobeck.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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