Archives for posts with tag: EQC

Just a quick post about Christchurch and the insurance shambles. IAG today reported an increase in profit after tax of 59%, to Australian $1.23B. IAG owns three New Zealand insurance providers – State, AMI and NZI. Here’s how customers ranked those insurers at Insurance Watch:

from insurancewatch.org.nz

Also in the report they said that they have settled 58% of their claims in Christchurch. Of course, the other way of putting that would be that almost 4 years after the first quake, a company that is reporting a 59% increase in after tax profit still hasn’t settled 42% of their claims in the city. 42%! And to be honest, after 4 years, I think that 4.2% would still be too high. People have paid their premiums to these companies for years, for one purpose – to be insured in the event of a disaster. For a company to still have 42% of their claims unsettled, and at the same time, be reporting a 59% increase in profits, shows that the insurance market isn’t working for the people of Christchurch.

This is what can happen when you have your biggest insurer running out of Sydney. Labour would establish KiwiAssure to stop these profits going off-shore. We would also set up an insurance court; it would cost just $1 million to set up, and would speed up the resolution of these claims. The next time you hear the insurance industry criticising these sort of attempts to fix their industry, remember those numbers. 59% increase in profit; 42% of claims unsettled 4 years on.

Last week, Paulette Barr saw the Prime Minister in Riccarton mall and bravely approached him with her story. It was a bleak story, and got plenty of media attention – front page of the Press, story on Campbell Live. A week later, some good news – Barr’s claim has now been “fast-tracked”, and Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner has become involved.

While I am happy for Barr – no-one should be going through these situations almost 4 years after the quakes – this story actually makes me more upset. It’s shouldn’t be like this. You shouldn’t have to rely on a chance encounter with the Prime Minister to get any movement on your claim. There are thousands of cases like this in Christchurch right now – how can we get them all “fast-tracked”? On the same day that we get the happy resolution story, we also have this – a homeowner living in a 3 degree house after repeatedly being told different things by EQC.

What we need in Christchurch is an admission the EQC and insurance process for fixing houses is fundamentally broken. We need the Minister of EQC, Gerry Brownlee, to answer questions as to why it has got to this point. Instead of merely patching up cases when they reach the media, the whole culture of these organisations needs to change. Their role is to help people. They shouldn’t have to be guilted into doing so by the media.

photo from the Press, by Iain McGregor

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was in town for a big-ticket announcement in a bigtop tent. Unfortunately, events got in the way, and the convention centre has been over shadowed by an impassioned plea made to John Key while he was out looking for votes in Riccarton Mall. Paulette Barr was at her wit’s end, so decided the best way to get some traction on her case was to put it to the PM directly:

“I was just saying, ‘Look, what can you do for us, it’s three years. We had liquefaction come right through our house. They had to remove the skirting boards because the liquefaction had gone in and contaminated the place,” the 61-year-old said.

Barr and her house-mate, Maureen Doherty, 74, said they had put their lives on hold since February 2011 as they waited for an over-cap EQC and NZI private insurance claim to progress on their Hills Rd property.

While Key might think he’s coming down to sing of the brighter future song sheet, he’s finding that people still have the helplessness blues. It’s a sure sign of how desperate the situation has become, how broken the process of dealing with EQC and insurance has become, how out of touch his Minister Brownlee has become, that the only way people think they are going to get anything resolved is by appealing directly to John – either the PM Key, or people’s champion, Campbell.

Crocogerry from Porcupine Farm

 

The Press reports that the much-touted surplus was in large part due to reduced spend on the Canterbury rebuild:

A surprise $300 million boost to the Government’s trumpeted Budget surplus relies mainly on a cut to the Earthquake Commission’s insurance bill, Treasury forecasts show … Budget documents show the improvement to $372m was given a $200m boost from “lower insurance expenses after an updated valuation of EQC’s insurance liabilities”.

If you look through Keith Ng’s awesome budget visualisation page, you will also observe that money is being pulled out of CERA. So while the Minister is busy denying that the floods in Christchurch have anything to do with the quakes, his government is putting the squeeze on EQC and CERA so that Key can boast about being “back in black”. The council is in a $534 million dollar hole – in part due to the anchor projects that the Crown has forced upon them – but instead of offering a helping hand, the government is pushing them towards it’s ideological obsession, asset sales.

Remember back to the day after the February 22nd quake, when Key said that this was a journey we would walk together? Well, National has hopped into a Crown limo and sped off, without even looking back to see how we’re doing. The message is clear; if you care about the rebuild of this city, about ensuring that people whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own can get the assistance that they need, that they deserve, and that they were promised, then you need to throw out this government on September the 20th.

Another day in Christchurch, another angry protest, another story on Campbell Live. This one was a small but vocal protest at Southern Response – over 100 people venting their anger. What was interesting was John Campbell’s interview with the chief executive, Peter Rose. I haven’t watched it a second time yet, so I’m not quoting verbatim, but I think I’ve got the gist of it. Campbell asked when all the claims will be settled, and Rose responded that it would be done by the end of 2016. Campbell then asked him whether he meant all of them, and Rose said 90% or more. Campbell then asked what would happen to the remaining 10%, and Rose suggested that they might be in court. Southern Response has about 6500 claims on it’s books – and they aren’t adding any more, as they were the agency set up by the Government to deal with the claims left behind by AMI. So potentially 650 of their customers could still not have their cases sorted by the end of 2016 – close to SIX FULL YEARS after the February quake.

Does anyone think that is at all acceptable? Southern Response have one job. Sure, it’s a complex issue – but a government agency that is aiming for a 10% failure rate when they are dealing with most people’s biggest asset is beyond a joke. The Minister responsible for this (HI GERRY) should be asking some pretty serious questions of Peter Rose and Southern Response. If this is how well the Government-backed insurer is treating it’s clients, I shudder to think what the private sector is getting away with.

UPDATED: here’s the Campbell Story

 

Yesterday, the Quake Outcasts won a landmark decision in the High Court, which found that the government had indeed screwed them over by paying 50% of what their land was valued at under a compulsory acquisition. Gerry Brownlee has decided to appeal, and the Prime Minister has come out with this astonishing statement:

“The Government would say actually we are being pretty generous on an insured piece of land, we are paying you out 50 per cent. One option is the Government says ‘thanks very much, it’s been a lot of fun. If you don’t want to take the offer, that’s where it’s at’.”

Thanks very much. It’s been a lot of fun. This is in response to a small group of people who have had to fight the Crown through the courts to get a fair amount of money for the land that the Government made a unilateral decision to remove from them. I understand that this will be one of Key’s flippant, throw-away lines, but to dismiss this group of people – who have taken your Minister to Court, and won – in this way shows just how appallingly out of touch Key and Brownlee have become about this city.

I haven’t written a blog for a while, mainly cause I’ve been too busy. Certainly not due to a lock of topics – if anything, there are probably too many. As I write, there is a geotech engineer outside my window, putting a big pole thing into the ground. He and a coworker have been digging holes in the concrete and the lawn all afternoon, hi-vis jackets protecting them from the rain. After what was the greatest summer I can recall, Christchurch has started to get cold, and fast. Many people still have drafty houses without chimneys. They’re less worried about finding money for shares in power companies, more worried about finding money for power bills. Judging by the letters to the paper, the comments on stuff articles, and the general bitching about how things going, the people are angry.

The big news was, of course, the EQC leaks. If it wasn’t for the GCSB fiasco, it would have been the biggest news in the country for the last wee while. First it was bad, then it got worse, then worser, and then someone decided to leak it. I don’t have a property to repair, so I don’t think I have any information in the spreadsheet, but I do think it’s hilarious what has happened. It simply would not have been this big a deal – and gathered enough public support for first Bryan Staples to go to the media, then secondly for EQC Truths to leak it – if the people of Christchurch were not just so damn sick of dealing with EQC. I linked to EQC Truths about two months ago. I’m not going to claim any role in the leak at all, but looking back at what I wrote about the site two months ago is kind of prescient; this simply wouldn’t have happened – it wouldn’t have needed to have happened – if it weren’t for the way that EQC are treating their “clients”. I don’t want to lay blame for the leak of the spreadsheet on the person who did; the blame lies with the organisation as a whole, from the Minister and the Chief Executive down. They should be explaining to the people of Christchurch, and of New Zealand, why we should put up with such a demonstrably inept organisation. Instead, Brownlee has skipped the country to pay homage at the funeral of his failed ideological master.

If you want an incredibly detailed, and depressing, recount of the ups and downs (and downs) of the Christchurch rebuild, then Eric Crampton has put together a great summary here. While I don’t agree with all of Crampton’s solutions to problems (he’s a low-tax, low-regulation economist by day, who described the ACT party as economically sensible) he’s done an admirable job of collecting the stories and the mood of the city over the last two years. I hope he keeps updating it.

Finally, Bryce Edwards included links to not one but two United Future bloggers in his round up today, with Pete George rambling on about something, and this piece by Andrew McMillan, Politician on the identity of the EQC Truths blogger. He seems to gone and done a forensic analysis of everything EQC Truths has ever written, to try and ruin any credibility he might have. Good to know that the United Future candidate for Timaru has so many things on his plate. The thing with EQC Truths is that people aren’t going to him because of what HE wrote, they’re going to him because he’s releasing what EQC wrote. McMillan can run his little crusade as much as he likes, but the horse has bolted.

The privacy breach at EQC should not only lead to a government review of how it treats information, but also signal a turning point for how EQC treats it’s “clients” in Canterbury. While the EQC were initially quick to front the breach last Friday, it’s super sizing over the weekend leaves them looking comically inept. The breach itself didn’t get bigger – they just couldn’t figure out how to read a spreadsheet. So instead of “just” 9,700 claims being released, it turns out they released the master document, with information on every claim in the $15,000 to $100,000 bracket. 

The scope of the breach may not have been realised if it hadn’t been released to the person it ended up with Bryan Staples, of Earthquake Services. He runs a company that offers services to Christchurch people who are frustrated with their treatment by EQC. So while he is in regular contact with the people at EQC as part of his job, there is still some irony in his company being better able to understand the magnitude of the spreadsheet they were sent than those that tried to triage the mistake.

Staples is front page of the Press this morning, and fronted on RNZ as well. I commend him for owning this issue, and coming out strong, especially when Brownlee has been trying his hardest to shoot various messengers rather than wear the blame himself. It’s what Gerry’s been doing for 2 and half years now. Not only is he responsible for the “recovery”, but he is also the minister for the EQC. I was going to suggest that people outside of Christchurch just don’t understand how inept EQC are, but then I remembered that John Campbell could make a show reel out of his EQC investigations alone. 

Dissatisfaction with EQC is widespread and well-known. They’ve had something like 11,000 official complaints lodged with them. If this was any other government department, there would be calls for investigations or heads to roll. But because of the “extraordinary circumstances” of the quakes, somehow EQC and the minister in charge – Brownlee – have got a free pass. This should be the end of that. The erroneous sending of a spreadsheet can be excused; what’s inexcusable is that the spreadsheet contained the information that almost 100,000 claimants have been demanding from EQC for years. The minister needs to ensure that the stonewalling, the obfuscation, the secrecy and the delaying tactics that EQC have employed are no longer tolerated. If he can’t do that, then he needs to go.

 

Yesterday, the Press ran a “positive” story from a guy dealing with insurance issues, who just wants us all to be more positive and say things are great etc etc. I didn’t read it, but since it went online, it has led to a lot of comment. And interestingly, commenters have alleged that the man at the centre of the story – Wayne Hurrell – actually works for Southern Response, AMI Insurance’s repair body. 

The Press runs a description or a disclaimer on perspective piece’s in the paper, and this one ran like this:

“Wayne Hurrell is married man with young daughters whose house is on TC3 land. The family had a joint review between their insurance company and the EQC in May 2012. Their house will be repaired, with ownership of the earthquake claim yet to be determined between EQC and the insurer.”

Now, nowhere in that does he say that he works for Southern Response. The Press have to answer the questions raised by the commenters on this story. Does Hurrell work for Southern Response?* If so, did he make this clear to the Press when he offered up this opinion piece? Was it even written by him – or someone in the AMI PR department who decided on Mr Hurrell as a positive face for this propaganda piece?

Aside from the questionable background of Mr Hurrell, the actual content is at times moronic too.

“if you are not planning to leave Christchurch, have your insurance company build you a brand new house”

You know, Mr Hurrell, I’m pretty sure it’s not just that simple. People have been fighting for 2 years, some for 2 and a half, to get their fucking insurance companies just to honour their existing policies. There have been only 600 houses built since September 2010. If it was just a case of being positive and getting your insurance company to build you a new house, then WHY DON’T WE HAVE THOUSANDS OF NEW HOUSES ALL ACROSS THE CITY? You think people are just sitting on their hands? A moron, and possibly an insurance company stooge to boot. 

* I’ve had a quick google, and no definite link. His public page has very little information, apart from saying he supports National. Doesn’t say where he works.

Last night, I stumbled across this blog, which claims to be from an ex-EQC employee who has been posting blogs about the way the organisation runs. I don’t have any way of verifying the legitimacy of the site, which is anonymous. However, given the depth of info, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. It would take someone very creative, and simultaneously, very schooled in the ideas of dull bureaucracy speak to come up with all the writings on said site. It’s worth a look.

I’ve personally heard of some shocking stories from people I know who work for EQC. One of which involved people higher up in management manipulating a claim so that they could sell the property without disclosing the land status – which they knew, but the vendor didn’t. This site may prove to be a way of getting some of these stories out anonymously to the media. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much House of Cards, but I think a few more leaks could be quite timely.

Just over two years ago, EQC had 22 staff. It now has hundreds. As does CERA, as does Fletcher building in Christchurch. These are big organisations, dealing with billions of dollars – and yet, we barely know how they work. In the case of EQC, it could be argued that they’re barely working at all. 70% of claims unsettled after 2 years sounds like failure to me. Taxpayers – not just in Christchurch, but across the country – should be demanding more transparency about how their billions of dollars are being spent. Maybe it’s all going to the right places. Maybe it isn’t. Historically, the construction, insurance and property development industries haven’t been as squeaky clean as they might want us to believe.

A series of big bureaucratic organisations have grown up rapidly in Christchurch to respond to the disaster down here. We need them. We also need them to be accountable. This means ongoing, in-depth reporting – not just parachuting the TV media in for a couple of days in February and another couple of days in September. 

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