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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Advocacy help in dealing with EQC, insurance companies and councils - Part 3

In his earthquake update the mayor Bob Parker reiterated his earlier public comment that there was no need for an advocacy service to work on behalf of residents. The first paragraph in that part of the update states:
Homeowners with unresolved issues can take these up with the Ombudsman (for EQC issues) and with the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (for private insurance company issues). There have also been calls for a separate, independent advocacy group, which have not been support by Bob Parker.
These comments are flawed as they do not actually address the need for, and purpose of, advocacy support. For some who read them, the content of this part of the update could be very misleading. The whole update can be found here.

1   BACKGROUND

Both the Ombudsmen (a Parliamentary agency whose territory includes EQC - the Ombudsmen are Officers of Parliament) and the Insurance and Savings Ombudsmen (a private agency covering most, but not all, banks and insurance companies - who fund the organisation) are bodies designed to investigate specific complaints that lie within their jurisdiction. Neither agency will investigate until the proper channels have been followed.

Ombudsmen and EQC - the process is relatively easy.
  1. you must first make a complaint to EQC using their complaints procedure (accessed via their website). That page, tucked away in an obscure part of the website, is here.
  2. if you are not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint procedure you can complain to the Ombudsmen. The Ombudsmen's complaints page is here.
  3. The whole process is governed by statute so that there is substantial protection for all parties.  
Note that the Ombudsmen can only make a recommendation and not make a direction.

Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (ISO) and insurance companies - the process is harder work.
  1. you must first make a complaint to your insurance company using their complaints procedure.
  2. the insurance company must provide a decision and, if that is not acceptable to you and all other correspondence/interaction is unsuccessful, give you a what is called a "letter of Deadlock" (meaning the end of the complaints procedure has been reached and there has been no resolution).
  3. The Letter of Deadlock then allows you to make a formal complaint to the ISO. If there are delays with your insurance company you still cannot make a complaint until the Letter of Deadlock is received. This may become an obstacle to progress if an insurance company is slow. The complaints page is here.
  4. The process is governed by the rules of the ISO and there is less opportunity for external oversight.
The ISO can make a decision that is binding upon the insurance company.

2    THE FLAWED REASONING

The Ombudsmen and the ISO are review bodies. They have staff who can look into a complaint and try to establish an independent view of the facts and appropriate decisions. They are both also very small agencies with few staff, barely enough for a standard workload, let alone the amount of work that might be generated from Canterbury. They are not support or advocacy agencies. The ISO does not have an office in Christchurch and so is quite remote from both the problem and those experiencing it.

Ideally most of the problems could be resolved without needing a complaint to either body. What is needed is an agency or group that can provide assistance to claimants as they try to work their way through whatever problem(s) they have. Someone to
  • talk the situation through with,
  • help get facts assembled,
  • assist with understanding what ever information is available,
  • assist with understanding the claimants rights and obligations,
  • set up and attend meetings with those not coping with the complexity of the processes
In this way problems could be resolved without risk of the claimant being forced into submission through weariness, stress, fear, or a lack of money for legal assistance.

None of this support is encompassed by the proposals in the update (see bottom of the page for the rest of the statement on advocacy). It is unlikely that setting up legal clinics will be of much help because, despite the best of intentions, they are likely to be talk sessions with little actual intervention by those running the clinics (think how much effort would be required to help the number of people with problems, especially if the problems are complex and/or the participants have run out of goodwill).

What is needed is something where experienced people assist those who are mired in a problem and can't get out without help. It needn't necessarily be costly if there was a high volunteer component support by a much smaller group of experienced advisors or mentors.

Let us see how this unfolds. In the meantime where ever you can raise an objection to those opposing advocacy support, please do so.


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In the balance of Bob Parker's comments on this issue he said:
Bob Parker is to meet with the Ombudsman soon and said he hoped that the insurance industry could address complaints and concerns without the need for a new entity.
Mr Parker is also in discussions with the Canterbury District Law Society with a view to establishing clinics around the city where people can get earthquake advice.

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