Report reveals EQC's data is in such a state, even the Independent Ministerial Advisor can't get reliable information on the status of unresolved Canterbury quake claims

Cartoon of Megan Woods by Jacky Carpenter

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is due to hire more staff, make claimants’ files available to them, and improve its systems so it has a better handle on its workload.

Government officials are also considering getting EQC to make cash settlements above its $100,000 cap which would then be recovered from private insurers, forming a new body to deal with all new Canterbury quake-related claims and getting EQC to reimburse claimants for certain claim-related costs.

The announcement comes further to the Minister Responsible for EQC, Megan Woods, receiving a report from the independent ministerial advisor she appointed earlier in the year to look at ways of speeding up the settlement of Canterbury quake-related claims.

Data

In her report, Christine Stevenson (who is also Customs’ acting CEO) says that of “considerable concern” is the lack of confidence both the public and EQC staff have in the agency’s claims activity data.

“Over time, multiple methodologies and processes appear to have been used to collect and report on claim numbers with ‘no single source of truth’,” she says.

“In particular, management have had a series of target timelines for claims resolution, but a lack of good quality data has meant that these have sometimes been unrealistic and plans to meet them have lacked appropriate resourcing...

"As I have sought information for this review, I have been unable to obtain reliable data on the exact number and status of the claims left to be resolved arising out of the Canterbury earthquakes."

Private insurers have been vocal about the headaches caused by the steady trickle of over-cap claims they have continued to receive in recent years.

They received 945 such claims in the last year and 1,864 in the last two years, according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ).

Tower’s CEO Richard Harding says this highlights “just how broken the system is and the challenges we have faced trying to understand how many claims remain”.

Stevenson points to the debacle caused in April when EQC revealed it had spent $170 million on re-repairs and $100 million on re-settling homes that had been cash settled, further to it in 2016 putting these costs at around $70 million.

While the situation saw Woods take aim at her predecessor, Gerry Brownlee, for “wilfully ignoring the scale of the problem” when he was in government, Stevenson pinned part of the discrepancy on EQC struggling to mine its own data, particularly when it came to the cash settlements part of the picture.

EQC will implement Stevenson’s recommendations around forming an “expert data quality group” to sort out the organisation's data. 

Dealings with claimants

EQC will also make claimants’ files available to them.

Stevenson says “claimants should have full, open and immediate access to all information associated with their claims if they request it.

“They should not have to request their files under the Official Information Act, and the files should be made available without redactions or missing documents.”

In terms of resourcing, EQC will follow Stevenson’s suggestion to hire another “settlement team”, so that each team only has to deal with 100 claims rather the 150 claims they’re currently responsible for.

Stevenson doesn’t specify how many new staff need to be hired.  

As it stands, EQC has around 2,600 open quake-related claims on its books.

Some of the other major recommendations Stevenson makes require input from other government agencies, or more systemic changes the Government can’t implement overnight.

For example, she suggests Woods makes a “Ministerial Direction” to give EQC a mandate to reimburse claimants for some claims-related costs.

“For some claimants, it would make a tangible difference to their willingness to reach resolution of their claim if EQC was able to meet some of their costs incurred either through the repair process or in attempting to reach settlement of their claim (which might include short term alternative accommodation or technical fees).”

Dealings with private insurers

Stevenson also suggests EQC makes cash settlements above its cap, which would then be recovered from private insurers.

She notes this already happens where repair costs are slightly over cap, but believes the protocol should be extended.

She says making this change would prevent a claimant from being left waiting while their private insurer and EQC argue about whether the repair is over-cap; the cost of settling the disagreement possibly outweighing the cost of the work in dispute.

Stevenson recognises that if EQC settles costs without the agreement of the private insurer, it can’t guarantee it will later be reimbursed.

ICNZ CEO, Tim Grafton, admits this idea poses “significant challenges… not the least being that serious questions exist about the reliability of EQC’s data and the fact that EQC does not apply full and final settlements”.

He does however support another one of Stevenson’s recommendations, to consolidate all new Canterbury earthquake-related claims from insurance entities (EQC, Southern Response, other private insurers) into one organisation.

“This is an initiative ICNZ raised with EQC last August to avoid multiple handling of claims and establish one point of accountability and responsibility for customers,” Grafton says.

Stevenson says the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has already been facilitating discussions on this potential model with private insurers, EQC, and the Treasury.

“I consider that it holds some promise and some risks. However, I recommend that discussions continue to test the viability of this model.”

See Stevenson’s full 26-page report for more on her other recommendations. 

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12 Comments

"As I have sought information for this review, I have been unable to obtain reliable data on the exact number and status of the claims left to be resolved arising out of the Canterbury earthquakes."

Well that's damming. What a [mess]. Good to see our new government sorting it out now, so in the next event there's proper process to follow, and hopefully our citizens won't get [mucked] around as much.

BAD LANGUAGE CUT OUT BY ED.

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If ever there was a chance to strike while the iron is hot, this government has it! National as an opposition are a nonentity, with a weak inarticulate leader. Their nine years of government is now being eroded by exposure of some careless administration eg dilapidated hospitals, housing crisis now admitted, meths test fiasco. And now this one here with EQC & don’t forget Sth Response already under spotlight for spying. It seems abundantly clear that EQC were under direct instructions to keep a lid on EQC cap pay outs. Was this Treasury, or the financial hierarchy of the government, including Brownlee, or most likely, both. Whatever or whoever was the origin of the policy it got out of hand to the point that the protection accorded to claimants under the act, was wilfully and emphatically transgressed to the extent that EQC actually became punitive in their purpose and culture. We in Canterbury need this government to bring this whole performance by EQC out into the public domain where it belongs, mostly so it can never be repeated anywhere in our country. And finally, what of Simpson the CEO at the time? Did his job description, to keep it simple, not bestow on him certain responsibilities in accordance with the Act?

It seems abundantly clear that EQC were under direct instructions to keep a lid on EQC cap pay outs. Was this Treasury, or the financial hierarchy of the government, including Brownlee, or most likely, both.

Hopefully, as a result of this recommendation being actioned we will finally get the insight into that question that we deserve;

Stevenson says “claimants should have full, open and immediate access to all information associated with their claims if they request it.

“They should not have to request their files under the Official Information Act, and the files should be made available without redactions or missing documents.”

If there is clear evidence of such underhanded directives from the executive branch of government, it will be a real blow to our democracy. Trust in politicians is low enough already.

If this type of directive (a clear abuse of executive power) is found to have been sanctioned at the highest levels of the National government, then I can think of two honorific titles that should be reviewed.

It has been obvious since the beginning that EQC was going to be a serious problem. The only surprise has been the length of time is has been contained

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(deep sigh).
The Labour Party cleaning up the National Parties mess yet again.
What Brownlee did to people is a National disgrace.

Point is though, he was but a foot soldier.

That evokes the good soldier Svejk. Except in this case don’t think you could even imagine, that the bumbling and blustering was a means to expose the greater ills of the administration, even in general terms.

Yes, well, the smiling assassin wouldn't have shied away from replacing a bumbling blusterer, so perhaps the bumbling blusterer was just perfect for the part? He may have been the one person who wasn't privy to the directive.

Hmm, maybe but the subject ego is so overblown and overbearing plus cunning, it’s difficult to imagine how it could be kept suppressed and in the dark. But if you are right? Then there is only one word. Machiavellian!

Those who can do....Those who cannot will never learn , a lesson to us all.

Real shame

Don’t hire a woodwork teacher to rebuild a city, duhhhhhh.