Frustrations rising in quake-hit Christchurch as insurance claims count tops 470,000 causing delays, confusion and unrest. Your experience?

Frustrations rising in quake-hit Christchurch as insurance claims count tops 470,000 causing delays, confusion and unrest. Your experience?

By Amanda Morrall from Christchurch

It's been two months since the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch and while fragments of normalcy have returned, recovery is a long way off.

For thousands of residents trying to pick up the pieces, insurance claims have become a source of anxiety and frustration.

With more than 470,000 EQC claims having been filed, the system has been swamped, say Canterbury community groups.

As private insurers work to negotiate greater efficiencies with EQC, residents are growing impatient.

A chief criticism is a lack of clear communication and reliable information.

While some insurers have taken active measures to reach out to the community, setting up portable offices and going door to door, others have taken a more passive approach waiting for residents to work through issues with EQC before they get involved.

Amid conflicting information and delays, tensions are rising.

AA Insurance head of corporate affairs Suzanne Wolton said mounting frustration among residents was understandable.

Wolton said her company alone had identified 45 different insurance scenarios that its customers were looking at, the complexity of which had given rise to the need for flow charts to help those at the coal face work through the process with customers.

The relationship with the EQC (which pays out of the first NZ$100,000 on structural damage and NZ$20,000 for contents) has led to complications that neither the industry or EQC anticipated despite some of the issues being flagged in a 2009 report.

"We're all learning as we go through this process," said Wolton.

"It's very complicated for insurers because we've got to establish whether firstly the insurance policy renewed between Sept.4 and Feb.22 and if it did renew the EQC cover reinstates, so you've got two lots of $100,000," she said.

"The second scenario where it reinstates is if they paid out any money in respect to Sept.4, and the third one is whether the EQC have made an assessment on the property and given the work order to (contracted builder) Fletcher Building."

But the question most on everyones' mind is the one insurers can't answer. And that's how long is it going to take?

In many neighborhoods, land remediation will dicate the speed of the recovery with insurers necessarily shunted to the sidelines pending the outcome of geotech reports and engineering work to repair land severely disturbed by the earthquake.

For others, the claims process is entirely dependent on EQC fulfilling its own requirements for two separate inspections to be carried out.

While that's happened in some instances and pay-outs have been made, the sheer volume of claims has led to a bottleneck.

Second inspection logjam

As a result, insurers have been pressuring  EQC for change. To streamline the system, they've suggested the EQC dispense with the requirement for a second inspection where there is clear proof (either through an independent engineering assessment or a private insurer's assessor) of the $100,000 threshold being tipped.

While the EQC signalled last week it was prepared to wave this requirement for selective insurers, it later revised its position, noting it would only do it having first worked through the details on a case by case basis with insurers.

Insurers and residents are reluctant to publicly criticise the EQC for fear of reprisal.

Mounting complaints, confusion, and log jams have given rise to calls for a Christchurch-based insurance watchdog, namely the Insurance Ombudsman.

In the meantime, residents continues to shift through a mindfield of insurance questions, everything on whether they should continue to pay premiums on a house that is uninhabitable and doomed for demolition and whether their policy will pay for the same kind of house they had.

Wolton said how much insurers would pay depended on the specifics of the policy, specifically whether it was "market value" or an "indemnity'' policy. (For a comparative view of insurance policies see our insurance section here.)

'Analysis paralysis'

Christchurch resident Josh Stevenson said conflicting information and uncertainty about when problems would be fixed was causing considerable distress.

In most cases, residents have been dealing with a double up of assessors, engineers and surveyors many of whom were offering contradictory opinion or estimates wildy out of synch.

With winter approaching, the city in tatters, many of the usual comforts, outlets and social gathering places gone, it was putting residents on the edge.

"It's eight months now and we've been living with unabating after shocks and life in a city seriously damaged by earthquakes. There's a lot of stress on people and families and the lack ofclear information adds to that stress.''

Stevenson, a member of the Canterbury Communities Earthquake Recovery Network, said the group was working to alleviate some of the pressure for residents by relaying information to government officials and insurance heads about problems on the ground.

Conversely, he said the group's 30 representatives were channeling information from officials back into the communities.

"It's helping to allay fears but there's still a desperate need for clear communication and more information.''

EQC responds

An EQC spokesman said the commission had received by April 295,697 claims from the September 4 and February 22 earthquake, although claims continue to be received and processed.

The cutoff date for claims is May 23.

The spokesman said the commission had revised its policy on a second site inspection on properties that had sustained more than NZ$100,000 of damage. This cleared the way for private insurers to start processing claims more quickly.

Insurers have contested the EQC's assertion that it is clearing the way for totaled houses to be worked on immediately.

(Updated with comment from the EQC on claim numbers and process)

 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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32 Comments

Sorry Amanda, I hope you don't expect dictator Brownlee to fight a war with his feeble powers.

Also the government is a bit busy right now. With making sure you don't do things big business in Hollywood doesn't like.

So what I'm hearing is that the insurance industry (incl the EQC) was ill prepared for a natural disaster and the volume of claims that would result. From poor processes at best, to insolvency (AMI) at worst.

And we're going to become a financial services "hub".

 

Most insurance companies in an emergency of any sort need to gear up and bring in their mobile and assessing staff and resources.  Weather for local or regional, floods, snow & storms.  It wouldn't be prudent to pay for staff on stand by.  As the land is not usually damaged in these events repairs are usually arranged efficiently in little time.   

The government, EQC, has had to source external staffing some with little training and experience just to get up and running.  The scale of it is scary.

I had a thought back in #EQNZ week one: Share out the suburbs to a particular Loss Adjusting Firm one or two suburbs depending on the damage level and their size, they are the assessment experts, they can train up who they need.  They can form a plan for all the insurance companies in their area, including the EQC.  

Organise/authorise repairs for all - a one stop shop for that area.  They remain independent so the insurance companies and Eqc can use their staff to spot audit the work done, authorise the larger work orders etc.
They already do this in house fires where Home and Contents are with different insurers, smooths it all out.

Then the EQC can concentrate on engaging reputable repairiers and communicating with customers on progress in their area and put more resources into the huge job of land remediation. 

I think this model would work vey well in suburban areas.

The insurance company/EQC double up has to stop it just stuffs it all up! Waste, waste, waste...
Surely EQC can grow up and trust reputable colleagues to just get on with the work needed.

The EQC after September concentrated on the smaller, simplier claims. I suspect to be able to report a higher number of claims processed for PR purposes. Most people I'm aware of have now had their smaller insurance jobs processed by EQC, paid out or contractors have been in and completed the work. Those with the larger jobs and more complicated issues and clearly  with the more dire need have gone nowhere. Now componded by the Feb quake and the onset of Winter...there are so many stressed people out there.

Someone at EQC smells a rat or two....be honest!...are there opportunities for assessments to bring fat rewards to certain types.........and don't give me that BS about "oh no they are all honest"....handing over $100000 on somebodies say so.....harrrrrrrrhahahahaha.

And that's just the fatter amounts....what about the $20ooo payments....who checks on the claims...and who checks on those who check the claims.....how many are worming their way in for a fat free $20ooo..."Oh we lost all our stuff when the flat caved in and then that nasty man driving the bulldozer did his thing.....twenty grand please"

Wolly: 20K? Where can I apply? I'll have it immediately...Seriously; I don't know anyone who's got 20,000 for anything from EQC so far. My experience of EQC is that the assessors and call people are well-intentioned, often new at the job, facing a tsunami of work, and only now establishing the systems to deal with it all.

Rorting-the-insurer is not an approved sport in my nice middle-class munted neighbourhood of St Muntins; most people I know are if anything underplaying their worries, house damage, and battered psyches. Some will of course be on to every freebie, but many more are like my very old parents-in-law who, despite no power or water for nearly a month and no sewerage for the foreseeable future have not applied for anything anywhere and will take no help "because there's people who need it more than we do".

What I''m trying to say here Wolly is that the honesty and goodwill I see in the city is actually far more than I ever thought was possible in a bigg-ish city. The vultures have not taken over.

(Pollyanna moment over; back to cynical old trout-dom.)

Fair enough ruru but you got the wrong end of the stick...I was trying to see why EQC are seeming to be so slow...I can only put it down to an effort to prevent the rorts that let's face it, will take place. Gerry has the power and should use it now to impose some serious jail time on anyone convicted of insurance crime in relation to these events....I don't mean a 2 week stay in a cell...I mean a bloody years.

It will be the very old you speak of who get shafted in this process and the scam artists who carry off the loot. look at the numbers who went a thieivng before the shaking stopped and they are still picking this scum up inside the red zone and elsewhere....short prison terms are not enough.

 

Sorry I dont understand how your comments are reasonable?

This whole AMI story has really shown off the level of frustration and anger in people and its clouding the judgement of most and showing the ignorance of everyone. Little else really.

Think about it for a minute here....

AMI buys insurance overseas and sells it to policy holders. It plans for and insures for events as seperate entities and cannot spread its reinsurance between these seperate events for any shortfall that occurs on any.

CHCH has disaster in September and reinsurance renewal happens for future events between Sept quake and the yet unknown event in february.

AMI board weighs up two options:

a) Sting the financially hurting policyholders in CHCH and NZ by being overly bearish and buying too much insurance and having to hike premiums rediculously while everyone is in shock and hurting in many ways.

OR

b) Making a reasonable estimate on another event and reinsuring for a reasonable amount.

AMI have a business to run and a reputation of running the business to their policy holders previous expectations.

I think John Balmfort might have been a little too cautious with approaching the government and once again sensationalised and spun by the media.

I feel strongly the reinsurers started talking about walking away when they found out that there might be a shortfall. Government couldnt afford to let that happen.

Confidence restored. moving on now.

All we have is government guarantees in place and estimate figures NOT bailouts.

Didnt the Govt estimate 30 billion and now its 8.5 billion?

And providing AA/Tower/State arent making "Large advertising payments" to the media organisations of NZ's pockets I can hardly believe any of the outrageous stories and comments on this website and others.

I dont believe they will tap anything from that funding.

$30b is the total estimated cost for everyone alby.  $8.5b is the estimated cost to govt (above eqc costs).

Overall I am inclined to agree with alby, though there are a few details around the second tranche of reinsurance that I thought were different. Yes, AMI may well not have to use the Govt guarantee, though it would be easier to judge this if there were more clarity about their exposure to the eastern suburbs. Overall they have 35% market share, I believe.

EQC performed 183000 rapid assessments after Feb22. It is difficult to see the total number of residential claims being much more than this, as the number of apartments in Chch is pretty small. Numbers for Sept 4 are thought to be less, maybe someone on this thread knows what they are. But how do we get to the figure of 470000? In any case, many of them are overlapping claims where earlier damage was exacerbated.

The govt estimates of cost are full of obfuscation. They do not inspire confidence, but look as though they are being produced for political reasons.

What I know about funding, or at least what I have heard from reasonable sources.

1 EQC has $5bn or reinsurance and $6bn of its own funds.

2 Infrastructure owners, such as CCC and Orion, are more or less fully insured.

3 AMI has$1.2bn reinsurance and (from memory here) $0.6 own funds

4 Insurers of commercial properties and infrastructure are well reinsured.

Does anyone know what the figure for non-residential reinsurance is? I'll take stab at $7.5bn.

You ask for our experience, so here it is.

None of the damage from Sept 4 has been repaired, and this is the experience of most of my friends and neighbours. We are still waiting for a geotech/structural  engineer's inspection of a retaining wall.

The under $2000 figure worked well for us after Feb 22 as we were able to get our roof made watertight, well nearly, I had to finish the job off myself. Next week I hope to get our log burner recommisioned and the roof repaired. We expect to pay for these jobs ourselves and claim back from EQC. Fingers crossed!

AMI have been fairly high profile in our area, handing out advice and even little utility packs. Most of the EQC staff we have dealt with have been polite and helpful, though their voicemail system is far from ideal.

We have no complaints, though it has been a struggle to understand a complex insurance situation. Many seem to have given up and just hope 'she'll be right'.

One suggestion I have made to anyone who will listen is that EQC should make cash offers rather than force people to wait years for repairs. Similar considerations apply to contents.

 

 

 

470,000 will be total claims from both events.  EQC count land, building and contents claims as separate claims.

Chris_J: curious re EQC. If someone owned a property that was insured and included the EQC levy, and the section next door was vacant, (without a house on it) and as a result of the EQ the land of both properties is damaged due to liquefaction how does the owner of the vacant land get compensated? From what I've read so far the EQ levy only attaches to building insurance policies.

I actually have that problem on a property with three titles.

House is wrecked, the whole property slipped towards the river.  I will let you know when  I find out the answer.  Probably in 12 months time though, meanwhile I won't be able to do anything with the land and of course there isnt any insurance for that scenario, so I am just straight losing money.

Thanks for that CJ. It seems a bit strange when they don't give them separate ID's, at least not for contents.

Sorry to hear you have got such a complex and serious problem.

EQC officials today clarified they received 184,329 from Sept.4 and as of today (Friday April 15) another 11,318 from Feb.22 which claims still rolling in. So that 470,000 figure I was provided with by well connected sources most likely includes commercial too.

FYI, EQC also confirms today that where that $100K threshold has been breached (and a private insurer has made that determination) insurers are now free to go ahead and process claims without the mandatory second visit. That may come as a surprise to many, including the Insurance Council of NZ, which only last week was still pushing EQC for that change.

I'll catch up with you on my next visit to Chch Chris_J.

Amanda

Thanks Amanda, that 184K figure looks about right, though I can only presume the 11318 is from 'new clients' as the Feb 22 claims figure was about 30k by the end of the month.

I'm glad I'm not a journalist; it must be incredibly hard for you to get accurate and unambiguous figures!

All the best

Or 11318 should be 111318!

From eqc website:.

 

Claims at 15 April

Earthquake

No. of claims

4 September

156,935

19 October

3,176

14 November

2,139

26 December

18,193

20 January

2,829

04 February

  419

22 February

 111,318 

 

EQC progress totals today: http://canterbury.eqc.govt.nz/repair-replacement/progress 

$831 million paid out so far. Near enough 60,000 with land damage. 265,000 building claims.

Must be almost every building in Christchurch. Hard to wrap my head around; I'm too close to the drama to see it all clearly, like nearly everyone in Chch. Need someone to deconstruct these figures and tell what it means.

As ruru notes, EQC report 445,000 claims so far, made up of 265,000 building claims, 120,000 contents claims and 60,000 land claims.  I guess the estimate that it will reach 470,000 is based on this.

Interesting that just 46 claims for land damage have been settled.

I think there are only something like 120,000 houses in Christchurch itself.  There will be claims from outside ChCh too, but the 265,000 building claims probably reflects that the vast majority of houses in the city have had 2 claims put in on them.

Thanks, seems to make sense.

Bernard's got my email Amanda.

As it's really a case of waiting for matters to evolve in ChCh, I've been down south a bit but if I'm in ChCh at the time I'd be happy to show you some of the issues we're facing.

Yes the lack of communication from EQC/Insurance/Government is a huge issue. My mothers house was gone in September, since then she has had 8 inspections from various people, finally agreed on the amount of repair costs, these all got held up until the government could make a decision on the land, that come through about 3 weeks ago, then the council stepped in and put everything on hold as they were not happy with the process in regards to the consent process with EQC. Again all on hold.

This is WHy CERA has got powers to Bi pass the council, everyone wants there input but no one is bringing all of this together. This is ONE house, there are thousands that this needs to happen.

Like I said, EQC, insurance companies, etc need qualified logisitc people in place (project managers put in place for each street) to co-ordinate this. At the moment everyone is trying to do there own thing and there own process, it won't work when mulitple parites (banks as well) are involved.

Wolly,

I can give you some confidence that some of the EQC systems are working. Before the second earthquake I had a unexpected visit from an EQC employee doing a "survey" on  whether I was happy with my September claim, organised over the phone and paid out. It soon became obvious this was not a survey but an audit. He quickly checked all our claims, and left leaving us confident that there was some checks and balances to protect the fund from insurance fraudsters.

They are also doing value for money audits of contractors, comparison of pricing across contractors and kicking out the ones overcharging.

 

The MSD is also contacting employees of employers and seeing if their work profile agrees with their employer application for employment subsidies.

 

The real sectors is moving ahead and adapting as quick as possible.... the real issue is insurance, access to the cordoned area and soon how the chips fall on property rights, see some clear conflicts on the horizon, CERA will decide the outcome.

 

 

The eqc process is far too slow.

I had a house assessed as overcap on Jan 28, after no further contact I made several phone calls initially in mid Feb.  Finally on April 14 (yesterday) an email was received confirming the property was overcap (no further inspections since Jan had been done).  They now say it will be up to 2 months to make the payment.

That means from Sept 4 it will be 10 months to have received payout, do I get any interest for the slow payment? No.

In regards doing assessments on over $100k houses.

We had one assessed as over $100k after Sept.  No payout was made or processed.  It's now red-stickered and obviously unrepairable for a reasonable price.  Despite this the eqc inspectors did another 2+ hour inspection calculating a price for repair.  Surely this is just a waste of resources.

On another post Feb 22 full inspection with significant damage (likely over $100k), 2 independent builders and an assessor came.  Initially one of the builders tries to make out it's all pre-existing damage and that cracks in the plaster and lathe will be patched, and that the lime mortar chimneys will be repointed and plastered.  I said you have got to be kidding and got the builder to look at the inside of the chimney from the roof space (the top of the chimney had imploded into the cavity so it's like a pile of bricks dumped inside the chimney breast) then I took him to see the 200mm of sand in the back yard, it wasn't till then that one of the builders told the other this is going to be a big repair bill.

Unfortunately some of these eqc assessors seem to begrudge the fact the claimants with old houses are likely to get a new one from the insurers and try to underestimate the scope of works.

All just more hassles to contend with.

But on a little good news the cordon came back enough to ger into two of our properties today, it would have been helpful if someone actually gave us a call though, or had secured the properties before taking the cordon back. 

The whole affair is an outstanding lack of communication.

(By the way the area within 150m in any direction is entirely unchanged since Feb 23, except for one building having been demolished (which could have just been cordoned initaially) and debris being removed from one that had collapsed (again could have just been cordoned off).

I don't have any confidence.  What is Suzanne Waltons insurance or EQC background?

I know quite a few people that received their full payout from EQC before the Feb 22 earthquake, they certain lack consitency.

I've officially given up on EQC. Today I rang and pleaded my case that the 'estimated amount' was far too much, and I'd be happy with a far reduced settlement under 10K, where i'd carry out repairs myself.

Even though they admit they'd most likely cocked up on the quote, there is no possible way they can reduce the amount.

I'm now going to spend 14K of tax payer's money on fixing 2 small cracks in my jib-board, and the balance renovating my kitched and bathroom.

I'm not sure if it's true but from what I gather you can spend you insurance allocation (if your in the Fletcher's pool) on whatever work you want to on your property but eqc will only pay the invoices, not pay out cash, which seems very silly.

I'm not that advanced on any of our Fletcher's pool claims - although we were told most would go to Fletcher's after Sept 4, but now most are overcap anyway.

i have a mate who has close personal tie,s with a painter in chch--this painter is running a crew of 4 painter,s and another crew of 2 plasterers who are prepping the jobs--all the work is coming through fetchers---this painter is overwhelmed with work and has been cranking his price,s so as to limit his success rate --all to no avail--what ever price he submits is accepted--he is becoming embarrassed by the situation---this same painter told a story of another painter doing a job through fetchers ---the claimant had been allocated 15 grand for the job---which was patching minor cracks and repaint of several rooms--it took 2 men 2 days and the bill was 9 grand-which in itself is outrageous--it was suggested to the homeowner that invoice be made out for the full 15 and the painter would kick back the other 6 for the homeowners use--i didn't find out  the final out come but it would seem that there are a few  out to game the system

With the Government and Fletchers involved the cost to repair Christchurch will be way higher than if they were not involved.  Rip offs will be everywhere and the good old government will hand over our good Auckland tax payer money along with payouts to those very conservatively run businesses of SCF and AMI.  What a joke.  I think all of Christchurch should have toll roads to help fund the repairs.  We all know Christchurch folks are very anti-Auckland and if the earthquake had been in Auckland there is no way the lovely folks of Christchurch would have donated a cent our way or offer any assistance.  They are simply too one eyed.  Perhaps their other eye has recently been opened.  

 

 

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