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.)
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.''
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)