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Booklet seen as unhelpful

22 Aug 2016

Insurers pressured the Government not to publish a booklet guiding Canterbury homeowners through the cash settlement process.

Email correspondence from March to August 2015 between the country's most powerful insurance companies and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) shows insurers believed the 82-page booklet was confusing, unhelpful and inaccurate.

The never-released booklet was designed to help homeowners make informed decisions about the cash settlement process. It clarified entitlements and the settlement process would depend on their insurance policy.

The correspondence was released to the Labour Party under the Official Information Act.

Labour's Megan Woods believed the Government failed in its responsibility to help Cantabrians.

Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) operations manager Terry Jordan believed the booklet could add millions of dollars to the cost of the recovery as customers sought payments beyond policy benefits.

A "significant portion" would come from the Government purse, through Southern Response settlements, Jordan wrote.

He earlier wrote the document had several inaccurate statements and could be "severely misleading".

There were "serious issues" defining the industry's position on cash settling because insurers had different policy wordings and approaches.

Vero claims executive general manager Jimmy Higgins expressed multiple concerns, saying the booklet was unhelpful because it promoted the use of advocates.

"The insurance industry has worked very hard to deal with unreasonable advocates who are demanding outrageous and extravagant settlements on behalf of customer that simply can't be justified."

Vero's "strong view" was insurers should provide their own information to customers.

Tower earthquake recovery manager David Ashe said the booklet "would have been extremely useful" three years earlier.

Publishing in 2015 would "not encourage confidence" in the recovery, nor in homeowners' decisions since the earthquakes.

Southern Response initially supported the booklet, but later wrote it could not contribute or associate with it.

Woods believed the Government bowed to insurer pressure.

"[It] hasn't done what it responsibly should've done as a Government and that was to aid citizens and get information to citizens, which would help them begin their journey and start working their way through what was a really complicated set of decisions for homeowners."

The Government had good intentions when creating the booklet, Woods said.

"Of course the insurance industry was going to run interference on this, as I say they see it as liability [and] homeowners see it as fair settlement."

The Government "failed" at its responsibility to help Cantabrians through the cash settling process, Wood said.

MBIE building and resource markets acting deputy chief executive Chris Bunny said the booklet was worked on between between February and September 2015.

"At the beginning of the work about 87 per cent of insurance claims had been settled, rising to 93 per cent by the end of September. As of 30 June 2016, 96.3 per cent of claims have been settled," he said.

Outstanding insurance claims were usually complex.

"As the booklet was being developed it became apparent that generic cash settlement guidance being applied to specific, more difficult cases, created the risk of confusion – the opposite of what was intended.

"This was the view of a number of insurance companies and was shared by MBIE. We tried to work through the wording, but decided the risk of publishing confusing or inaccurate material was too great," Bunny said.

Agencies supported homeowners through initiatives, including the 'Do your homework' and 'Rebuild with Confidence' booklets, involvement in In the Know Hub and website, Residential Advisory Services, and temporary housing villages.

ICNZ chief Tim Grafton said its position "reflected the views of private insurers".

"We were fully supportive of all the information in the cash settlement booklet that provided advice to people about post-settlement and suggested that this be published."

Generic advice to people pre-cash settlement was "not possible". Each insurer had different policies and approaches to determine cash settlements.

"This would have created confusion as people contrasted the generic information in the booklet with their policy."

 

- Stuff

 

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