Community Law Canterbury – further update on hours

Community Law Canterbury have changed the hours when assistance and advice is available. The net effect is a change in the hours for the drop-in centre, and an increase in the hours available for appointments. The following is from their website (which is here).

We are currently operating free drop in sessions at 35 Riccarton Rd., Monday to Friday between 10am to 2pm.

We are also running an evening and Saturday morning service by appointment:

    Monday to Thursday 5.30pm to 7.00pm by appointment
    Saturday Morning 9.30 to 12.00pm by appointment

Other services offered include employment advice, legal help for young and older people. Each of these services is by appointment, with details on the website. There is also specialist help for Maori and Pacific people. Statutory declarations can be made between 3.00 and 5.00pm Monday to Thursday.
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Joe Davies – Community Organizer

The National Distribution Union (Paul is the NDU’s Southern Regional Secretary) has employed a union organizer to act as a community organizer. The appointee is Joe Davies, and his role is to help people, anyone. This position has great potential as Joe comes from a background of providing and building strong advocacy support, a form of assistance not available from most other agencies.

We have been sent the following information, which will better explain how Joe can help individuals (you don’t have to be a union member), streets, and communities.

After the February 22 earthquake, the National Distribution Union, like many other organizations, wanted to make a contribution to help the people of Christchurch. Instead of making a donation to one of the charity appeals, the Union decided to do something more practical. They decided to employ a Union organizer as a community organizer to help people with problems and enable the communities affected to have a voice in decisions being made that affect them.

Joe Davies, an experienced Union organizer, is working mainly in the worst affected eastern suburban communities, helping people initially with problems in their streets and neighbourhoods, and helping them organize collectively to ensure that they receive the support they need and ensure their voices are heard in the corridors of power, especially regarding decisions being made that will impact on the quality of life in their communities.

Problems Joe can help with include things like dealing with WINZ and the various government agencies dealing with the earthquake, help with accessing agencies and community organizations set up to provide assistance, advice on where to go to get building and plumbing problems sorted out and general advocacy for earthquake victims. In the longer term, Joe will be trying to strengthen community organization and networks that will help communities to advocate for themselves, especially regarding rebuilding plans.

Joe is available to help anyone who is having problems related to the earthquake, whether they are (or have been) members of the Union or not. You can contact Joe through the Union, ph 0800 438 638, or via the Union’s website at www.ndu.org.nz

NOTE added 16/04 – You can ring Joe direct on 021 618 394

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State Insurance: earthquake FAQ – Part 3 Complaints and advocacy

The final part of the State Insurance FAQ deals with how complaints can be dealt with, and advocacy support. Again, while this post is focused on the State FAQ, the comments are generic and likely to apply to all insurance companies.

Complaints

If you have a complaint about the way your claim (or you) are being handled by the insurer you can , once the standard process has been followed to the very (and likely bitter) end, raise it with what State call the Ombudsman.

This is not the “real” Parliamentary Ombudsmen, but the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (ISO) established and funded by insurance companies. For more about the two, see the blog pages here and here.

At this point in the process you put your case, the ISO will assess it against the perspective of the insurance company, and the details of your insurance claim (which is a legal document and the basis of your insurance cover). Their recommendation will be made after consideration of all this. If you agree with it, fine, if not you can pursue the matter in the court’s system. The recommendation is binding on your insurance company.

The practical issues for us are:

  • the office of the ISO  is in Wellington, and they have said they will not be opening an office in Christchurch
  • at no stage do you get a chance to put your case in person as you would in a court or tribunal
  • the process does not allow you to have someone more experienced than you pursue the things that are in dispute, and to query the position of the insurance company

On the surface, this approach seems to be similar to trial by remote control without benefit of a lawyer.

Advocacy

The State FAQ simply mentions that there is no independent advocacy service. It then comments further on the role of the ISO.

It may have been an error on the part of whoever wrote the State FAQ, but the expression “independent advocacy service” makes no sense. Advocates cannot be independent, their job is to represent one side in its dispute with the other. Perhaps insurance companies are against the introduction of an advocacy service because it won’t be independent.

That fact that an advocacy service doesn’t exist is beneficial to insurance companies. Without an advocate most claimants are in a weak position. We may not:

  • clearly understand what our policy means
  • know if our insurance company has made a mistake
  • know what information to ask for
  • feel confident asking for the information we need
  • be able to put our questions/thoughts/position in writing
  • feel comfortable and confident in questioning the insurance company
  • have the interpersonal skills to be able to meet with the insurance company and disagree with them face to face
  • know whether the insurance company’s interpretation of our policy is correct, or if there are alternative interpretations that would be to our benefit

While no insurance company will accept the claim that they would disadvantage any client by the way they interpret or apply their policies, we live in an imperfect world and so do they. We are motivated by the need to have a home to live in, and to protect the asset it represents. They are motivated by cutting costs.

A final thought on why an advocacy service is essential. The way in which ACC has been treating injury claims has been likened to it “becoming like an insurance company”. We have seen how some people have been disadvantaged in their dealings with ACC. Do we want that to happen with our earthquake damage claims?
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State Insurance: earthquake FAQ – Part 1 (a good read)

State Insurance, part of IAG, have recently placed an earthquake FAQ on their web site.  Someone at State has done a good job in laying out the situation from State’s perspective. As always issues arise and these will be covered separately. If you are insured with State this is the document to read. The FAQ is here.

Even if you are not insured with State this is well worth reading, keeping in mind that other insurers will differ on specifics. It will certainly give you some questions to take to your insurer.

The main topic headings are:

  • How we are prioritising claims
    • 1. How are you prioritising who gets rebuilt first?
    • 2. I’m in Zone A (no land damage) and the government is saying repairs can begin now so why hasn’t mine started?
    • 3. Once the EQC has paid, when will you start my rebuild/repair?
  • Questions about the EQC
  • EQC Zone A
  • EQC Zone B
  • EQC Zone C
    • 1.  Can you assess my home now and at least tell me whether you are going to repair it or rebuild it?
    • 2.  I’m in Zone C and trying to get more information on when my land will be remediated and what the sequence will be – where can I get this?
  • Questions about your policy; excess and settlement options
    • 1. Why do I have to pay an excess for EQC and one to you?
    • 2. My home is a total loss – can I cancel my policy?
    • 3. My home is a total loss – why do I have to continue paying premiums on it?
    • 4. What are my settlement options?
  • Questions about your repair/rebuild
    • 1. My house is being rebuilt – do I have to have everything in the same place? (Lawrence’s comment: this bit covers redesigning parts of the house)
    • 2. Can I move the position of my house on the site?
    • 3. Can I build a smaller home and get the difference in cash? Could I offset the difference in what it would have cost to build the same size against my mortgage?
    • 4. Can I use my own builder?
    • 5. Why can’t I demolish my house now?
    • 6. Can I build a prefab home on another piece of land I own until my land is remediated? Could I then have my prefab home relocated to another piece of land I own?
    • 7. Will I be able to keep things from my existing house that are being replaced, e.g. carpet, drapes, heritage windows etc?
  • Alternative accommodation allowance
    • 1. What happens when my alternative accommodation allowance runs out?
    • 2. Who pays for the removal costs in and out of my property when it comes time for me to have to move out of the house when it is being rebuilt?
    • 3. If I decide to rent a fully furnished property while my house is being rebuilt (and/or it is the only option I can find), who pays the costs to have my furniture stored?
  • Temporary repairs
    • 1. I need to get urgent repairs done to make my home habitable/secure/watertight – shall I go ahead with this? 
    • 2. I want to make some changes to be able to keep living in the house, rather than in temporary accommodation. For instance, could I install a heat pump so I can live there over winter?
  • Garden maintenance at an uninhabitable home
    • 1. I’m not living at my own property – what do I do about my gardens? Will you pay to have my lawns mowed?
    • 2. My policy has a landscaping allowance – can I use this to get the lawns mowed at my property? 
  • Council rates relief
  • Lodging a claim with EQC for an aftershock
  • Payment of EQC settlement to private insurer for repair/rebuild
    • 1. Why am I being asked to pay my EQC money to you now?
    • 2. What happens if I put my EQC money against my mortgage (or paid off my mortgage) and don’t want to take out another loan to pay it to you right now – can I pay you instalments or in full later?
  • EQC Temporary Housing Suburbs
  • This is a very stressful situation for me and my family – where can I go for help?
  • Is there an independent insurance Ombudsman or advocacy service I can talk to?

  The FAQ can be found here.
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Advocacy support – problems with insurance companies – Part 2

Yesterday’s post on problems with insurance companies arose from a report in the Sunday Star-Times. It related to people whose houses were damaged beyond repair yet still having to pay insurance.

Monday’s Press looked into the issues from a different perspective (p. A5) and the article is worth reading (it was on the Press website here on the 1st). Apparently, if pushed, some companies are considering offering a discount, while others are not.

The part I found most interesting was the statement made by the chief executive of the Insurance Council:

Insurance Council chief executive Chris Ryan said he was aware of more complaints and understood some insurers were reconsidering their prices.

“My understanding is that some of them are having a bit of a think,” he said. If customers were unhappy, they could shop around for a new policy, he said.

Perhaps Chris Ryan wasn’t thinking clearly when he suggested that unhappy customers shop around for a new policy. His suggestion is absurd, and likely to be offensive to those on the receiving end of it.  Claimants are looking for fairness, rather than the run-around and impractical suggestions. 
Recall that some of the complainants first went to the Office of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman, to be told they should take the problems to the Insurance Council. Very promptly the Insurance Council offers no assistance other than to tell them to sort it out themselves with their insurance companies. So much for Bob Parker’s hope that the insurance industry could address complaints and concerns without the need for a new entity. If they can’t get problems like this sorted, how will they manage complaints about what repairs are necessary, what constitutes like-for-like, how repairs should be carried out, timing issues, and whether a house should be repaired or rebuilt?
Again the point must be made: how can claimants rely on insurance companies (including EQC), or the associated review and other agencies, to assist them when they have problems? Perhaps it is time for the politicians to get involved and put in place an advocacy service that can help claimants deal with insurance companies (and EQC). I do recall Gerry Brownlee was, at one stage, not averse to this (see here).
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