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Canterbury earthquake repair issues increasing for insurance ombudsman

The insurance ombudsman is dealing with increasing earthquake repair issues.

The Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman (IFSO) scheme is dealing with higher numbers of earthquake repair-related claims.

In the early days after the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, the ombudsman received a lot of complaints about temporary accommodation and loss of rent.

But as the situation matures, the nature of the complaints has changed.

The IFSO scheme aims to inform people affected by the November 14, 2016 earthquake so they experience fewer insurance issues.

"We're seeing a slight change," said Virginia Douglas, the scheme's business development manager.

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Four per cent of all Canterbury earthquake-related complaints to the ombudsman are to do with repairs.

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Many people also have questions about cash settlements and what Douglas called the "last bits" in claims.

"The [remaining] claims that we're investigating in Canterbury are very complex," she said.

"People feel very stuck."

The scheme has received 1821 Canterbury earthquake-related enquiries since 2011, 192 of which it has investigated.

The ombudsman scheme's job is to investigate and help resolve individual cases, but it also collects data that can be used to improve understanding for consumers and insurance companies.

Douglas said its aim was to make the process easier for everyone, not just those who made official complaints or triggered investigations.

"There's lots of things people can do to get things back on track, because obviously that's what they want."

The ombudsman deals with insurance claim issues every day, she said, but it's probably not an area of expertise for most people making claims.

"This might be the only insurance claim that someone ever has," Douglas said.

"People often don't know the questions that they should ask."

The scheme has also provided advice on the first steps to take for those affected by the November 14, 2016 earthquake.

"The best time to realise you might have a problem with insurance is before you make a claim," Douglas said.

Some steps are as simple as taking photos of damage before cleaning up a property.

"We're very happy to help . . . but often they're very capable of taking care of it themselves."

The scheme also provides advice and information to insurance companies to help them approach claims in a way that generates fewer issues.

"If the smaller issues can be understood at the beginning, there's a much smoother process."

According to the scheme's statistics, earthquake-related complaints are settled more often than all complaints across the industry.

Between 2011 and February 2017, 44 per cent of earthquake-related complaints were settled, upheld, or partly upheld.

Over the same period, 30 per cent of all complaints to the IFSO scheme were settled, upheld, or partly upheld.

Advice for dealing with repair claims

- Check your insurance policy and build contract to see what you can claim, and who is liable for what.

- Write your concerns to your builder and insurer.

- Get independent advice about the problems and what needs to be done to fix them.

- Talk to your builder and insurer about what can be done to resolve issues.

- Remember that repairs have to comply with the current Building Code, but the whole home doesn't have to be upgraded to comply.

- Get legal advice before signing a cash settlement for remaining repairs, because it's not possible to get more repair money after that.

- Keep your focus on the end result - repairing your house.

- Agree on timescales for updates so you don't have to keep checking.

- Before hiring a claims advocate, check what the costs are and what they can do. Consider contacting the free IFSO scheme.

Stuff

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