Read this letter, Gerry
The Press published a story titled 'Brownlee to consider insurance role'.
The story was about the Government looking at ways to help Canterbury homeowners locked in dispute with their insurance companies, including the Christchurch City Council's suggested advocacy service.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee commented that he had received a letter from the city council on the issue yesterday, but had yet to read it.
But there is another letter he could be referring to - one from Rob Mayes.
Mayes suspects the same thing, writing to me today: ''I think that's me they're talking about not having read and playing lip service to before completely ignoring. What is pathetic is that a guy living in Japan has to state the bleeding obvious for a bunch of politicians to still not get behind it.''
Mayes was unlucky enough to be in both the Christchurch and Japan quakes last year. He's currently living in Japan but trying to help his mum, who still lives in Christchurch, out of her insurance nightmare.
In an email yesterday, Gerry and I were copied into an email from Mayes that was sent to a variety of politicians and Government agencies.
Mayor Bob Parker replied to Mayes within an hour of receiving the letter.
Parker wrote: ''Thank you for cc'ing me Rob. It says it all. Your reply is to the point. I spoke with the Insurance Council media representative last week. They asked me what they could do to help. I said get people on the ground and assist your customers to work their way through this confusing morass of bureaucracy.
"I will forward your email as another example of how ordinary people are being pushed beyond reasonable limits in the struggle to cope with this disaster," Bob Parker.
I thought I'd show you the letter.
Mayes' mother is an elderly lady who has a freehold house in Vernon Tce, fully insured with SIS. It's the family home. Her children all live in different cities but regularly visit to help and support her. The house was split in three in the February and June 2011 quakes and continues to be damaged further.
She was lucky enough to be able to rent the undamaged house next door to hers (which allowed her to be near her own property and remain in her community) using the 12 month accommodation allowance which expired in March.
She now pays $205 out of her pension to pick up the short fall for the rent of $385 after accommodation supplement of $180. She has no other source of income.
In November 2011 she was put on EQC's urgent priority list.
LETTER TO GERRY BROWNLEE
Mayes wrote to Gerry yesterday saying:
''I have CC'd this email to you for reference of the issues facing insured home owners in Christchurch. This is a letter from my mother's insurer SIS explaining why they have done very little to address the issues stopping them from doing a better job (ie they blame EQC), and my response. Hopefully it will give some insight into issues facing home owners and particularly the elderly, many of whom do not have family to stick up for them.
"Since November we have been trying to get forward movement from both SIS and EQC, only to be told no-one knew when anything would be assessed and addressed. SIS said they couldn't do anything till EQC had made their assessment and could not call EQC to find out what was happening because that was not how it worked.
"I was even asked by the SIS case manager to call EQC to push them along. (I live in Tokyo and can't call 0800 numbers which he knew but he asked anyway).
"The process has been immensely frustrating, distressing and stressful, including financially, as each week takes money my mother doesn't have out of her pension to cover rent she shouldn't have to be paying, as we try and figure out how a fully insured freehold house owner can find secure living while she waits for her insurers to figure out what it is they're doing.
"All through this process not one of the organisations seemed to have a work schedule, a day planner, anything written down that could give any indication as to progress.
"In mid-July the cap payment appeared in my mother's bank account.
"SIS was not informed of the decision to pay and didn't know until we told them. They hadn't lifted a finger until we informed them it was processed and now say to expect a 2-4 week wait while they get together a proposal.
All this in the age of spreadsheets and secure internet access, and still my mother is paying an extra $205 a week to live in some level of security in her own neighbourhood, and will probably be doing so for quite some time, even though she is fully insured.''
INSURANCE COMPANY WRITES
Here is an email from AA Insurance's Earthquake Response Team Leader, to Mayes. (AA Insurance has amalgamated with SIS Insurance)
''Dear Mr Mayes,
"I have been asked by your Customer Manager to confirm our position with the EQC, It is clear there has been a misunderstanding over how earthquake claims are dealt with.
"Only in the event that an earthquake claim arises, the EQC act as the primary insurer and SIS Insurance act as secondary ''top up'' insurer should an earthquake claim exceed the EQC's Cap.
"All insurers collect premiums on behalf of the EQC for all building and contents policies and this forms a small part of your annual premium paid to us. The EQC are entirely separate to that of any of the insurance company and as such, we have very limited authority to deal with your claim with them.
"You are a customer of the EQC and your entitlement under their policy will be paid to you. It is within your best interest to follow up and ensure you receive your full entitlement under your policy with them. SIS Insurance do not have any say over the decisions and processes of the EQC and our policy only activates when the EQC have fulfilled their claim (Paid full cap) or confirmed their contributions.
"We have provided the EQC with all the information they require to process their claim and as previously explained we do not have any involvement over their claims processes.
"We are always happy to do as much as we can to help the EQC process their claims by providing them with our information. We do, on occasions, help our policyholders who are not in a position to regularly keep in contact with the EQC, this however is not part of our responsibility as the contract is between the policyholder (you) and the EQC.
"I understand the EQC have now finalised and paid you your entitlement under their policy and we are now in a position to calculate our cash settlement offer, this can take a number of weeks as your claim must go through a stringent signing off process to make sure you receive your full entitlement.
"I hope this clarifies matters and should you wish to have more information on this subject please contact me and I will be happy to provide you with more information.
Earthquake Response - Team Leader
AA Insurance Limited
ROB MAYES' REPLY
EQC finally paid the cap in mid-July, "no thanks to SIS".
"We were on EQCs urgent list for seven months (glad they don't run the ER at hospitals).
"We got a remittance letter in the mail with no indication whatsoever it was going to happen or coming or anything. It just arrived.
"SIS had no idea in the weeks before. We had no idea and we were talking on the phone in the weeks before. SIS wouldn't life a finger till it was in the bank. They could have been drafting their package for us if they'd known it was a sure thing (which of course it was).
"SIS said they had no way of getting details and we were better off following it up ourselves. so that's every single house owner in Christchurch forced to combat two entities when they should really only deal with one.
"What a whole heap of wasted work for everyone."
'IT'S YOUR JOB'
Mayes also wrote to AA Insurance/SIS to make his feelings clear.
''Thanks for your letter. The fact remains that SIS has left the Customer to fend for themselves through a technicality.
"It's not a matter of you having limited authority, it's a matter of expertise. You guys are in the insurance business. It's your day job. You are the insurance experts. Customers are not.
"The end result of how insurers and EQC have acted is one massive mess of confusion and frustration, and insurers must take a large part of the responsibility for that as a customers' direct and only point of contact until the earthquakes.
"How hard would it be for two entities in partnership (Insurers and EQC who partner to provide protection for customers) to devise a more open and transparent system where the customer wasn't forced to spend over 18 months on the phone to get some sense in an already distressing situation.
"Your job is to make that sense.
"That's what you've been getting paid for all these years, yet Mr - - thinks it's totally appropriate for him to ask the customer to try and get the proper response from EQC so that he can move forward and do his job? (email 27/06/12)
"Who's the insurance expert in this situation?
"I'll tell you one thing, it wasn't originally the customer, but the customer has been forced, every one of them, to become an expert fighting to get some response from seemingly confused and indifferent insurers.
"Here are the facts.
- Customers pay SIS to insure them.
- SIS work with EQC to provide earthquake coverage.
- Together you partner to provide a range of coverage.
"Even though you partner to provide this range of coverage apparently your relationship is so bad that you can't or won't talk to each other.
"In the age of easy technology you haven't been able to work out between yourselves a simple and effective way to share information. The best solution you've come up with is to force the Customer to play phone tag, chasing EQC, then You, then EQC, ad infinitum, ferrying information back to you because you didn't think it was important enough to establish direct communication lines with your partner body in order to speed up and smooth a very difficult situation for your customers to provide the coverage you were collecting premiums for?
"Do you see where I'm coming from here? This is the ''shoulder shrug'' response New Zealand is making a name for itself from. Not your problem? Not your job? Not how it works?
"The end result is your customers needlessly suffer. All this faffing about has costs and consequences for your customers.
"An elderly lady in the twilight of her life. 12 months accommodation assistance. Then what? Where do you think rental money's going to come from? Not your problem? Not your job?
"Perhaps if EQC and SIS could bring themselves to work together, to communicate like normal people there would be less unwarranted stress. Not how it works?
"Mr - has known for months what EQC's position is going to be. All he had to do was look at the reports or send someone out to look at that broken house. It was always going to be the full cap payment ever since the June quakes.
"Yet Mr - has not completed his report for us. He didn't even know the cap payment had been authorised. Do you see a problem here? Every week spent pissing about is a week my Mother has to find rental money to cover her accommodation for something she, as a fully paid up freehold house owner with full insurance should never have to do.
"Where's the money coming from? She's on a pension. Money is tight for all of us, yet EQC and SIS think it's OK to waste week after week, month after month on simply doing their job and fobbing off responsibility to someone else.
"Instead of accepting that there is a problem and trying to address it we get the good old shoulder shrug. Do you see a problem here?
"People have been reduced to tears over this, I've been reduced to incredulity and I'm sad to admit pure anger, and I'm usually a calm and rational man.
"Please do not feed me the line "not our problem, not our job, not how it works".
"You're a business. It's your job to make it work, or to go out of business and lose your Customers to someone who does make it work. Could I do your job better? I'd damn well try.
"It may not seem urgent to your staff sitting in the comfort of an Auckland office, and yes yes, difficult times and all that, but it's been over 18 months, you can't use that excuse forever. We're trying to make a caring and thoughtful society here. Your contribution to that is essential. In fact, it's your job.
"In summary you say you don't speak to EQC, and vice versa. My question to you is ''why not''?
"It makes perfect sense that you should. It's the difference between solving this catastrophe with as little pain as possible to those affected, or dragging it out for as painfully long as possible.
"I really can't see why the insurers and EQC haven't thought it worthwhile pursuing more streamlined methods of operations. Your letter has done nothing to make that issue clearer.