Letterboxes Campaign Launched to Highlight Plight of Those in Claims Limbo
As the seventh anniversary of the February 22 Christchurch earthquake approaches, a new campaign has been launched.
Called “Letterboxes - #7YearsOn”, the campaign is designed to raise the profile of the thousands of unresolved insurance and EQC claims, some dating from the September 2010 quake.
A protest is planned for this Thursday 15 February, meeting in Cranmer Square at 9.45am.
Campaign organiser, Ali Jones, says there was a sigh of relief for many when the now Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, vowed at Labour’s election launch in Christchurch last August, to settle remaining earthquake claims quickly and cheaply; launch a royal commission of inquiry into the EQC; set up a tribunal to hear claims issues with EQC and private insurers, and establish a $1m fund for test cases to clarify major legal advice to claimants.
“Many of us appreciate they have only recently put their feet under the desk but we’ve already been fighting for 7 years. We also understand that time is needed to draft terms of reference for an inquiry into EQC, and that the wording of any declaratory judgement or test case to be filed takes time and exactness however, we believe there are things that can and should be done now and we are not seeing that0,” says Jones.
“Behind every letterbox is a home, a family, people trying to live their lives as they wait for progress. They are essentially powerless in most cases,” says Ali Jones. “Many wait for news to come via email into their digital letterboxes too. Others can use photos of their letterboxes to show they understand, that they support people living this nightmare.”
Campaign supporter, Jo Petrie, is in limbo with her insurance company and has been for several years. She says despite filing legal action last year, her whānau is still a long way off getting their life back.
“Every day we live this ‘limbo loop’, as I call it. Every day we look forward to the day our policy is finally honoured. The court process is exhausting, it’s expensive, it’s slow so for most people challenging their settlement is not even an option. The system needs to change so families can get a fair deal and see justice,” says Petrie.
The number of unsettled claims doesn't appear to be substantially reducing as the number of claims in litigation is at 521 and growing (as at 1 Feb 2018). Insurers also report more cases being handed to them, overcap, from EQC and Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods has recently revealed that 3000 EQC claims remain unresolved.
“For those 3000 claims and the thousands of others still not visible, we believe there must be an audit of all EQC repaired homes, with an independent body triaging the claims and botched repairs effectively and correctly,” says Jones. “As for insurers, we need the promised tribunal operating now and a special earthquake court that runs day and night. Long term we must put in place legislation that compels insurers to settle in a reasonable timeframe. Almost a decade is not reasonable in anyone’s book,” she says.
A bit of background
There are thousands of us stuck in insurance and EQC limbo, 7 years after the 2011 February 22 earthquake. The EQ was a disaster in itself however the aftermath has for a lot of us, been even more damaging disaster - and it continues. #7YearsOn
We are using letterboxes to illustrate the number of people stuck, the number of people supporting us to get resolution and that this is about our homes. Many of us keep waiting for news via our letterboxes - computer inboxes or letterboxes at the front fence.
Between February 15 this year and the end of February, we are asking people to take a photo of themselves beside their letterbox, and uploading it directly to this Facebook page or via our website. We’d love to see your face next to your letterbox if you’re ok with that? There are faces behind all our letterboxes, as we wait for news about progress of our claims.
When you upload your pic, we would like to know if you are someone in EQC or Insurance limbo or are supporting those of us who are. We need your support! Just write that in the comment on the FB page when you have uploaded it. Thanking you in advance. And hastag your post #7YearsOn
So many people think Christchurch “is sorted” or well on the way to being sorted however we beg to differ. Sure, things are being rebuilt, people are moving on but there are still so many who are stuck with no control over their lives at all.
What do we want? Well, we have some pretty clear short, medium and long-term goals:
Short-term: Sort the current and real mess out. Meet with everyone who is stuck or feels they can’t progress, and triage the situation. That doesn’t mean rolling out a policeman from Queensland to sit and take notes from a distraught person and then put people on hold for 3 months; we need experienced, qualified, empathetic and senior people to manage these claims - as per the claimants policy and the EQC act - starting with a face to face meeting. Much can also be quickly achieved by dealing with the low hanging fruit immediately (you’d be surprised how much of that there is) and get on with hour by hour, day by day management of a claim to get it sorted - EQC and private insurers.
There’s a very urgent need to look at the structure, people and processes in EQC as they currently operate - and not as part of the inquiry. There are things that can change straight away that will help facilitate sorting the current mess out much faster and fairly. For example with over cap payments - get the electronic payments people speaking to the paper cheque sending people so they can all do one thing and do it in the best interest of the claimant - I kid you not, the silos even in an area as basic as how people are paid their over cap payments are real and unnecessarily ridiculous.
As for those on a never-ending court list somewhere, get the courts open to hear EQ cases only - make it night court if you have to but get those that are ready, in front of a judge, now! Open a new court if you have to. And on the liability issue (“on solds”, no deed of assignment etc), file declaratory judgements using the $1m fund the labour Govt said it has for this very reason, to rule on liability so we can all get on with getting on.
Medium-term: Get the EQC Commission of Inquiry (CoI) underway ASAP; be open with the drafting of the Terms of Reference (ToR) as well as the wide range of expert and experienced people who can contribute to this. An online survey is a good start to see what people want in an inquiry but that’s not the best way to ascertain what ToR’s are needed. Get a review underway (not a part of the EQC CoI) to look at the way insurers have behaved/performed and what people have experienced. This is badly needed to inform a part of our long-term goals.
Long-term: Clearly the EQC CoI will inform larger scale changes needed in the organisation and quite possibly the EQC Act. There also should be legislation drafted and implemented to limit the time insurers can stretch claims resolution out. It is done overseas, why not here? Adding financial penalties to claims that remain unresolved after a period of time (12-18 months?) will also help avoid the appalling situation so many in Christchurch find themselves in #7YearsOn
Establishing an Insurance Department with an Insurance Commissioner as they have done in California, is essential. The Ombudsman has no teeth and to be frank has been pretty ineffective in managing or in any way controlling the disastrous aftermath of the EQ claims related to the Canterbury earthquakes. We need an advocate for the public, someone who has the claimants position at the heart of resolving issues. http://www.insurance.ca.gov/
A new category of claimant - “On Solds”
This is a new group of claimants and many of us are a part of this group. At the time of the earthquakes we did not own the house we live in now, we bought our houses after they had been repaired by EQC. We were assured these houses had their earthquake damage assessed and repaired fully and correctly; our due diligence showed all the paperwork to be in order confirming this. Now we find they were not and our houses are breaking.
As our homes were repaired under the Canterbury Home Repair Programme (CHRP) lead by Fletchers and managed by EQC, these houses were considered to be “undercap”, which means they were assessed as having less than $100k plus GST worth of damage and did not get transferred to the insurer. So, there is no claim lodged with the private insurer.
EQC is saying, if we agree your house was assessed / and or repaired wrongly, our obligation under the law (EQC Act) is to pay you the $100k plus GST and send you to your insurer. For many if not most of us, this is happening 6-7 years after the earthquake. The insurer however is saying, sorry, this is not our problem. If EQC had done their job correctly, you would have lodged a claim with us and it would be sorted.
Many of the issues that these houses with failed or botched EQC repairs are facing, are structural. The foundations and subfloors have not been assessed nor repaired correctly and so the costs of putting this right are significant.
And who pays? Well that’s the curly legal question that it seems at this stage, only a court can decide.
We are asking the government to honour its promises made in the lead up to the election - to resolve all outstanding claims, to launch a Royal Commission of Inquiry into EQC, and establish a $1m fund for test cases to clarify major legal issues around earthquake insurance and EQC claims.
We know this labour government has just put its feet under the desk however this situation is urgent and after #7YearsOn we believe it must be addressed immediately.
Please help so we can get our lives back.
Ali Jones PR & Communications
PO Box 2362
Ph 027 247 3112