CERA’s Residential Advisory Service

Yesterday the Government announced (here) the establishment of a Residential Advisory Service that will start operating next month. It is not an advocacy service, as has long been sought and occasionally promised. Rather it is:

… designed to assist those who are facing complex issues, are confused over conflicting advice, or who are in disagreement with other parties.  It will work by identifying potential solutions, preventing unnecessary disputes arising, and contributing to a smooth and timely rebuild process.

On paper at least the service looks as though it will be useful in a number of situations.

The service will assist property owners to find the best way to address the challenges they are facing and gain a clearer understanding of their own repair and rebuild process. A range of technical experts will be available to support the service. The service’s independent advisers will be able to request direct advice and/or suggestions from these experts. Funding arrangements for the service are still being finalised, with costs shared between CERA and other agencies and organisations.

Some residential property owners may need general advice. Others may find it more helpful to have an independently facilitated multi-party meeting, where they can meet with representatives of the organisations relevant to their circumstances. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and one solution may not work for all situations.

There are restrictions on the situations in which it can, or cannot, be used: 

This service may be available to you if you are an earthquake-affected residential property owner and you:

  • believe you are in disagreement with another party over your repair or rebuild process, or
  • are not confident about or do not understand the complex matters associated with your rebuild or repair process.

However, you cannot use the service if you:

  • have filed legal proceedings against your insurer (if your issue is insurance related), or
  • are participating in EQC mediation (if your issue is EQC related), or
  • are trying to deal with your situation through the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman process or any other dispute resolution service.

The preliminary operational details, including phone numbers to call to book yourself into the service, are here. Hopefully this service will give some priority to those stuck in the Red Zones so they can get out as quickly as possible. Click on the link to see the operational details.  

The Residential Advisory Service provides independent assistance to residential property owners. It helps them to understand and negotiate progress the repair and rebuild process. What will the service offer? The service will assist property owners to find the best way to address the challenges they are facing and gain a clearer understanding of their own repair and rebuild process. Some residential property owners may need general advice. Others may find it more helpful to have an independently facilitated multi-party meeting, where they can meet with other parties or representatives of the organisations relevant to their circumstances. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and one solution may not work for all situations.

 

Criteria – who can use the service?

This service may be available to you if you are an earthquake-affected residential property owner and you:

  • believe you are in disagreement with another party over your repair or rebuild process, or
  • are not confident about or do not understand the complex matters associated with your rebuild or repair process.

However, you cannot use the service if you:

  • have filed legal proceedings against your insurer (if your issue is insurance related), or
  • are participating in EQC mediation (if your issue is EQC related), or
  • are trying to deal with your situation through the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman process or any other dispute resolution service.

 

How does the service work?

The service involves three steps: STEP 1 When you contact the Residential Advisory Service, a staff member will take you through a short assessment to see whether your circumstances meet the criteria for the independent advice provided by this service. If your circumstances don’t meet the criteria, the staff member will tell you about other support services that are more appropriate to your circumstances. STEP 2 If your circumstances meet the criteria, you will be offered a face-to-face meeting with an independent advisor. At that meeting, the advisor will gather information to work out where you are in the repair and rebuild process. If necessary, they will seek further information from the agencies involved, and will have access to an independent panel who have technical expertise in the areas relevant to your circumstances such as insurance. STEP 3 If you have been identified as having a particularly complex or difficult set of circumstances, you may be offered the opportunity to attend a multi-party meeting to clarify the issues you are facing and help you to find a solution to them. This meeting will be independently facilitated. Or you could choose to deal with your circumstances through a dispute resolution process (like the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman). Where appropriate, the service may support assist you to access this.

 

How do I access the service?

You can access the Residential Advisory Service through self-referral by calling 03 379 7027 or 0800 777 299 NOTE added 22 April: CERA have deleted the access information and added a note to the effect the Service will be available from the 20th of May. Small word changes have been made and are indicated in the original post by strikeout for deletions or highlighting for added words.

NZ Human Rights Commission on the Christchurch Earthquakes

The NZ Human Rights Commission (HRC) produced a submission in March this year as part of it’s implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) From the HRC web site:

This submission focuses on the Christchurch recovery, and three key enduring challenges for New Zealand identified in New Zealand’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), other treaty body recommendations, and highlighted in the Commission’s 2010 review of human rights in New Zealand:

  • violence
  • inequality
  • the full and effective incorporation of international human rights obligations.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from here.

The problems that plague us: Japan and Christchurch

The following is a quote about Japan from Annelise Riles, a professor of Law in Far East Legal Studies and a professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. 

“Sadly, the recovery is plagued by a number of serious political problems.”

“They include an unwillingness of the mainstream press to fully investigate or to place news in analytical context; an unwillingness of elites in position of authority, whether in the private sector or the government, to put aside politics as usual and address the needs of the many victims; and a lingering unwillingness on the part of many citizens to openly challenge the government even though many people privately voice their total distrust of government claims and cynicism about its motivations.”

Professor Riles is currently helping to organize a two-day conference to begin March 11 to bring business and political leaders from Japan together to examine the lessons from the earthquake and tsunami.
More info here.

Occupy Wall Street and Red Zone dissatisfaction

The Arab Spring, protests in parts of Europe, in Israel, and now the Occupy Wall Street movement (which has spread well beyond New York and is starting here) all have at their core significant dissatisfaction with the unjust and undemocratic processes that operate in their countries. Each centre of dissatisfaction is different in circumstances, degree and detail, but at the core is a common connection: the way things are done do not take the people into consideration. Many currently protesting in the residential Red Zones would see the similarity to their situation.

In a recent article for the US based Foreign Affairs website (here), authors Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri traverse recent events from demonstrations in Cairo through to the Wall Street Movement. Their finding is that part of the protest is about saying “we are here” – because those in power or with influence take no notice of the population at large. Those demonstrating want to participate; that is their concept of democracy.

Reading the article it is not hard to think how a very similar political act is playing out here in Christchurch, where those with power and vested interests (government, council, insurers, investors, developers) are trying to steer recovery in the direction of the purposes that best serve them. In doing so ordinary citizens are being ignored and politically dis-enfranchised. From the article we get:

“One obvious and clear message of the protests, of course, is that the bankers and finance industries in no way represent us: What is good for Wall Street is certainly not good for the country (or the world). A more significant failure of representation, though, must be attributed to the politicians and political parties charged with representing the people’s interests but in fact more clearly represent the banks and the creditors. Such a recognition leads to a seemingly naive, basic question: Is democracy not supposed to be the rule of the people over the polis — that is, the entirety of social and economic life? Instead, it seems that politics has become subservient to economic and financial interests.”

Is it harsh to say that our politicians are like their brethren elsewhere – more interested in representing narrow private interests than the country or city that are supposed to be their constituencies? Probably not. At the national level financial bail-outs, and general support to big business, has been associated with a history of a light touch on the controls of anything to do with organized money. In the absence of proper restraints organised money and it’s businesses have been able to do almost as they wish without paying the price – the price is paid by the public.

In the area of earthquake recovery, confidential arrangements with insurance companies, secrecy over the state of the land, failure to provide a suitable mechanism for dealing with disputes (land zoning, insurance assessments), and blind subservience to market forces when the playing field is not level, would suggest it is a continuing state of affairs.

Local government deference to the requirements of developers and investors, a lack of openness with intentions and decision making, and overt attempts to prevent support and advocacy services being provided to those in dispute with insurers, suggest a similar distorted situation exists at the local level too.

So far the Red Zone protests have stuttered, and failed to gain momentum. Fortunately for politicians what underlies the protests is not widely understood. As with the financial crisis, the issues of public versus private good, and of private profit and public loss have not raised their heads sufficiently, or widely enough, to ignite a critical mass of criticism or objection. Why is this?

From the outside, Red Zone protests may be seen to be merely about how much money is enough. In fact it is about:

  • the validity of government undertakings (restoration of equity),
  • the right to contest arbitrary government decisions (creating red zones, adopting a valuation method that is unfit for the purpose, declaring properties Red Zones without providing the evidence, creating Red Zone options without public notice or participation, offering appeal processes that are not explained and don’t yet operate – all “rules” that did not exist in law when the earthquakes happened, and smack of retrospective law making),
  • the integrity of businesses (insurance companies and agencies: their contracts and their conduct),
  • the right for all to have a level/just playing field when dealing with bureaucracies and big business.

 

    The Occupy movement has arrived in New Zealand. It is expressing solidarity with those protesting in the United States, and dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in New Zealand. At this stage Occupy support for Red Zoners is localised, however the localised Red Zone plight is a prime example of much of the complaint at the core of the Occupy and earlier movements. Perhaps there can be a joining together with Red Zone protesters for mutual strength and support. The failure of Red Zoners’ cause will be a failure of the Occupy cause.

    ======
    Foreign Affairs articles:
    The article by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Foreign Affairs, 11 October 2011, The Fight for ‘Real Democracy’ at the Heart of Occupy Wall Street is available on-line at foreignaffairs.com here.  The article is not a hard read.

    Another article at Foreign Affairs, Why Occupy Wall Street is Not the Tea Party of the Left by Sidney Tarrow, provides another interesting insight to the same issues, although this time in the context of the civil rights and women’s movements (here).
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    Mayor Bob Parker and insurance – worse than no help at all?

    In his personal statement to the city yesterday (here), in the context of Christchurch being without insurance cover from the 1st of July, the mayor ends with the following:

    “I’ve been out and about at community meetings organised by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority this week and insurance cover has been one of the most frequently raised issues. Homeowners are concerned that even though their homes are in the red zones, if insurance companies deem that their house can be repaired then the reimbursement they are being offered is the cost of those repairs. Individual property owners will be taking this up with their insurers, just as we as a Council are also try to get the best possible insurance outcome for our ratepayers.”

    What a fine thing, council and citizens fighting against problems with insurers. Not quite the same though.

    The council, a large team with professional support, are seeking to arrange insurance for the future. So far there have been no problems with claims on existing policies. If some do arise the council has the resources and money, our money, to ensure strong advocacy in their own cause. Individual property owners, pretty much on their own, are dealing with problems arising from claims on exisiting policies in extremely difficult circumstances. They have no support, no one to advocate for them unless they can afford the cost of legal assistance. For many this process would take too long, and cost too much both financially and emotionally. To the delight of their insurance company they will just wilt, acquiesce and fade quietly away.

    The issue of advocacy support in dealing with insurance companies arose months ago, and was quite topical in January and February (see blog items here and here). Basically the mayor felt there was no need to have an advocacy service to support homeowners in disputes with insurance companies, the companies had put sufficient processes in place. He was off to Wellington to impress on the Ombudsmen that an advocacy service was not needed.

    Now that critically important issues are arising from insurance company responses to the “Red Zone” concept, property owners are facing the prospect of challenging insurance company policy interpretations in a very unequal contest. What a difference an advocacy service would make.

    Did the mayor in effect sabotage the opportunity for advocacy? Could he have made a positive difference, had he supported and promoted advocacy? Has he helped put many people into a desperate, lonely, and soul destroying position?
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