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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Barbecue report

All went well. The weather was fine, around 70 people turned up, the food was good, as was the company. There was lots of conversation and new faces to put names to. Natalie Absolum (EQR/Fletchers), Brendon Burns (our local MP), and Stef Harris (community constable) were invited, and spent a long time with us - thank you for that.

All going well there will be a pre-winter barbecue just before daylight savings ends. An e-mail and invite drop will let you know some time in march.

Also coming up is a meeting on some street issues. It will be in the scout hall in Retreat road one evening in early march. There will be e-mails about that soon too.
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Barbecue

Don't forget the barbecue at Paul's this afternoon.
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Unemployment Benefit - self employed

I don't think this applies to any of us, however it seems useful to mention it as a matter of record. Work and Income New Zealand have created an earthquake related benefit for those who are self-employed, or who are employers, with less than 30 hours of emplyment a week because of the earthquake.

The salient points, quoted direct from the website which is here, are:
UBCE is to support employers personally.  It is not intended to support businesses.
To be eligible for UBCE you must be self employed and working less than 30 hours per week due to the earthquake, or an employer working less than 30 hours per week in their business due to the earthquake, and
  • not be in full-time employment
  • be available for and seeking full time work
  • have taken reasonable steps to find, and be willing and able to undertake full-time employment
  • be aged 18 years or older
  • have continuously lived in New Zealand for two years or more since becoming a New Zealand Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • have no income or an income of less than the amount that would fully abate the benefit.
People receiving UBCE have the same work obligations as people receiving Unemployment Benefit, but can be considered to be meeting these obligations if they are:
  • working to rebuild their business, and
  • seeking other employment until the business is able to generate work to support them.
 You can find the web page here.
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EQC complaints procedure - another example of it in use

Michelle and Jeremy e-mailed me on Thursday to say they had used the complaint procedure a couple of weeks ago. Their experience:
" Two weeks ago we lodged a complaint with EQC using the complaints procedure and heard nothing from them within their stated time frame.
As we were unhappy about the lack of response we emailed  Sabina Eberle about the Complaints Procedure(cc.Gerry Brownlee and Brendon Burns)
Sabina Eberle(seberle@eqc.govt.nz) appears to be the problem solver for many of the issues  arising on Trade-me and EQC FaceBook pages informed us that the complaints department had our email and would contact us "shortly". This has not occurred.
... we will be contacting her to ask why our concerns are not acknowledged or dealt with."
Clearly nothing new about Gail's and my experience (so far we have not had an acknowledgement of our e-mail). For now I am happy to wait and see how this plays out.

Michelle and Jeremy also raised a very good point: "However the question remains - how overloaded is the Complaints department?"

I was at a meeting late last year when we were told EQC were in the process of setting up a complaints group, and there would be somewhere between 5 and 7 people appointed to it. Only the most blithely optimistic of people could have considered that to be sufficient staff.

Will keep you posted of both Michelle and Jeremy, and Gail and my, progress with this.
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Friday, February 4, 2011

CCC - Earthquake recovery groups to discuss progress

Mayor Bob Parker announced today on a CCC web page that he will be inviting all the groups involved in rebuilding Christchurch to a meeting on Saturday the 19th of February.

The invitation will be extended to the following: all Christchurch MPs, councillors and community board members, key council recovery managers, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, commissioners and working parties, EQC, major contractors, the NZ Insurance Council and a number of key government organisations.

The news release is available here.

CCC - Repairing Damaged Heritage Buildings

The council has a web page dedicated to providing information about the repair of damaged heritage and character buildings. Useful if you live in one, or are interested in protecting these buildings.

The page is divided into the following sections:
* Repairing Damaged Heritage Buildings
  • Safe and secure
  • Repairs to the heritage building
  • Reconstruction of elements
  • Strengthening of buildings
  • Professional advice and tradespeople
* Urban Conservation Areas Study
* Architectural heritage of Christchurch series
* Contextual Historical Overview for Christchurch City
* Issues and option paper: City Plan heritage provisions
and each section has one or more downloadable documents. You can find it here.

Fletchers FAQ - Part 4: deciding what properties get repaired, and when

Item 11, in the Property Owners part of the FAQ, covers how it is decided what properties are repaired, and when. The full text is cited below.

As is often the case there seems to be issues arising: is the process needs based, and what involvement do homeowners have in the decision making process?

Taking the answer at face value, needs are not relevant, and homeowners are not involved in the decision making. The only thing that is important is the efficient use of resources (minimising costs, doing the easy areas first, and getting things done as quickly as possible).  It may well be that the text has not been worded properly; it may also well be this is exactly the way it will happen. Does it matter? To some it may matter very much. More on this in a couple of days.
11. How is it decided which houses are repaired first?
The first Hubs have been set up in areas where we have the most claims information to get started and where there are no land issues that prevent work from starting on houses. They will be set up as quickly as possible as more claims are passed on to us from EQC, contractors are accredited, and land issues become clearer.
We propose to repair small groups of houses at a time, based on geographic areas, such as a particular street or a few adjoining streets.
The order in which streets are repaired within each Hub area is yet to be programmed. It will be determined by the most efficient use of resources.
You can find the FAQ here.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

EQC - Geotechnical reports: release of interpretive reports

According to a comment posted by an EQC person on the EQC blog (here) interpretive reports should be available approximately 2 weeks after their companion technical report.

If this is correct then the reports covering Spencerville, Kaiapoi South, Brooklands and Tai Tapu should appear toward the middle of next week with Bexley, Aranui and Kaiapoi North appearing around the 15th.
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EQC complaints procedure - using it on Wednesday

Some people in the street have received their Scope of Works from EQC. As most properties had an assessment in late October, as did we, it seems reasonable that everyone should have had some communication from them by now.

Not having received our Scope of Works, while others around us have, it was time to ring EQC for a progress report. The person who answered the phone was good, offered to note the request for a copy, could confirm that we had not yet been sent a copy, nor had Fletchers. What she couldn't say was when we might receive it. Fair enough, in a call centre environment you can only see what is on the screen. Still, 3 and a bit months is quite a while so time to do something extra.

On the EQC Canterbury Earthquake website, buried away on the Contact page, is the link to the complaints page (here). The recommended procedure is to first call them and talk the matter through. Fine, however Gail has called a few times and is still waiting for a call back promised around the 19th of November. No point in doing that again, so maybe the situation was sufficiently aggravating to warrant a complaint.

A complaint was made just after 10 am yesterday morning, and we are still waiting for an e-mail acknowledgment. They have 5 working days to respond. The steps to making a complaint are listed below.

Will keep you posted.

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The steps in making an on-line complaint (as per the EQC website here) are:
How do I send EQC a complaint?
You can click here to fill out and send us a form with the details of your complaint. We do need your claim number, so please make sure you have this ready.
Next steps
If you have sent us a complaint and given us an email address, we will send you an email confirming we have received your complaint.
Otherwise we will write to you acknowledging your complaint.
We will allocate your complaint to one of our team who will look into your complaint and contact you to work through the issue.
You should expect a response from us within 5 working days. If we need to take longer because, for example, we need to get additional information, we will let you know.
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EQC blog - update

After a day or so the comment I posted on the EQC blog appeared for the world to see. Like a number of the questions there, it probably won't attract a response. However it will be seen by EQC staff who seem to do a good job of keeping an eye on the blog.

Their blog isn't the right place to raise questions about individual claims, however it would be a good place to inject ideas you feel they should be thinking about. If you want to give it a go, the blog is 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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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

EQC - Geotechnical reports: timetable for release

In a press release of 1 February EQC, amongst other things, provided the following information on the timetable for releasing the balance of the current technical ("factual") reports and what happens after that.

The bottom line seems to be that nothing significant will be known, for areas that need land remediation and protection for the future, until the middle or end of April. The full release can be found here.
Factual reports are a collation of all the data collected from geotechnical investigations, such as boreholes, soil testing, and seismic surveys, in the suburbs. They will be followed by interpretative reports, that include analysis of all the data collected.
There are 20 factual reports being produced in total. The reports will be available on the EQC website as they are completed, with the last due to be completed by the end of February ...
"They will help deliver on the Government’s commitment to funding additional work to give greater protection to people's property should a similar earthquake happen in the future," says Mr Dixon.
Repair to the land in these suburbs will also include smaller scale work on many properties, largely filling cracks and compaction.
"Following the geotechnical reports and further engineering work, recommendations will be made to the Government. The recommendations will include how the land remediation will be staged and how it will be integrated with the local councils’ infrastructure and private insurance companies' rebuild programmes," Mr Dixon says.
The Government expects to be working through these recommendations in early April.

EQC have released geotechnical reports for Bexley and Aranui, and for Kaiapoi North

The geotechnical reports for Bexley and Aranui (combined), and Kaiapoi North were released today and can be found here. As with the previous reports, these are technical and not much use to residents. Again it will be a matter of waiting until the interpretive reports are released.

Advocacy support - problems with insurance companies

The Sunday Star-Times, as reported on the Scoop website, ran an article on Sunday about the problems a few earthquake-affected policy holders have with their insurance companies.

Written by Lois Cairns, the article describes the problems experienced by a small number of policy holders whose houses have been declared a total loss, yet they are expected to continue paying premiums. The policy holders feel they should not have to continue paying premiums, while the insurance companies insist that they must. As the Office of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman could not become involved in the issue the matter has been referred to the Insurance Council. Lois Cairns' full article can be found here.

Only recently mayor Bob Parker voiced the opinion that advocacy support was not needed (see this page here) because:
"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."
"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."
Already the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman has failed to provide advocacy support, instead passing the responsibility to an organisation even less capable than they are of handling such matters. 

Considering all the problems that could arise between claimants and insurance companies, the current issue is very small and has shown the Office of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman is not suited to providing support to policy holders with a complaint or dispute. It needs to be noted that advocacy support is not, and was never intended to be, part of their role. 

Hopefully the mayor will tell us very soon how he got on with his talks with the Parliamentary Ombudsmen, the Office of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman, and the Canterbury District Law Society over dealing with issues such as these, and the much bigger ones that are soon to surface.
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Monday, January 31, 2011

Inner city rental accommodation

Mayor Bob Parker is promoting the idea that vacant land within the inner city be used to provide accommodation for those dislocated by repairs and rebuilding.

As reported by the Press on Saturday (29th), a proposal is to go to the Council in two weeks time looking at options to house folk affected by the earthquake. One of the options involves building, with some urgency, accommodation within the inner city on council owned land.

Bob Parker is quoted by the Press as extolling the virtues of new inner city accommodation, and the boost it would give to the city. Also quoted are others with objections ranging from the politics behind it (the proposed involvement of the private sector) to the practicality of the proposal for families with children or people with pets.

For me three issues arise. The first is the one of practicality. Not everyone with children would find inner city apartments, which are invariably small, suitable for children or extended families. There would be insufficient space for day to day activities, whether they be recreational or domestic, nor would the inner city necessarily be a safe or desirable place for children. Many with companion animals would not want to be parted from them for months, and the prospect of their long term confinement in a cattery or kennels is tantamount to cruelty. And, of course, Gordon would not want his hens left in the care of just anybody (nor would I).

The second is the prospect of building resources being diverted from important reconstruction work (infrastructure and housing). I'd love to see the feasibility study analysis on how this will impact on the rebuilding programme. At this stage, though, it would appear that the idea is only at the conceptual stage - existing only in the minds of the mayor and whoever he has discussed it with.

The third issue is the onset of a sense of deja vu; haven't we heard this inner city living and housing concept being promoted before this? While thinking about the current proposal I have this uncomfortable feeling that some see the earthquake and its aftermath as a opportunity for pursuing non-essential agendas. An opportunity more important than caring for, supporting, and protecting those who have suffered as a result of the earthquake and its aftershocks. Of course the construction of inner city housing is an opportunity for both making a mark and making money.

Perhaps I am creating an injustice. However some in the council (and maybe outside it) are actively against the idea of advocacy support for homeowners. Now, seemingly, the prospect of the homelessness of many thousands of families is becoming a means of pushing an unrelated agenda that has yet to have a thorough airing. These current ideas, ostensibly developed on behalf of homeowner(s), seem designed to be of more benefit to others.

Maybe, when the mayor's proposal is unveiled, its merits will be blindingly obvious. If not, it needs to be opposed as a dangerous diversion.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

EQC has a blog

EQC has a blog here.

Only one item has been posted so far, however it could turn out to be a useful resource. We'll see.

Last night I used the comments section of their blog to raise the issue of the relevance of EQC assessments with the passage of time. It is in their system waiting for a moderator to approve it. Interesting to see what, if anything, happens.