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Privacy Commissioner finds EQC failings

The Earthquake Commission has failed to comply with its Official Information Act and Privacy Act obligations to provide information to its Canterbury customers in a timely manner, a joint report by the Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner has found.

EQC hit headlines in April when a spreadsheet containing details of thousands of claims was accidentally emailed outside the organisation. It subsequently found its way online.

The report makes 13 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by EQC which is now taking steps to implement them.

The report acknowledges that the context in which EQC is working is extraordinary. But EQC’s customers in Canterbury are living in the aftermath of a major natural disaster: “Access to information is not just a “nice to have” that gives way to more important priorities in disaster recovery. It is a basic right that enables individuals to engage effectively with government agencies, and to have a proper say in decisions that profoundly affect their lives.”

EQC’s backlog of information requests rose dramatically as the result of an abrupt increase in an already high volume of information requests – from 50-70 new requests per week in August-October 2012 to more than 160 per week in November-December 2012.

By May 2013, EQC was routinely breaching access to information requirements and advising people there would be a six to seven month delay before the agency could respond to requests.

The Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner undertook a joint investigation with a view to establishing how the lengthy backlog might be fixed as quickly and sustainably as possible. They found that the failure to respond to requests within 20 working days was largely the result of:

  • an overcomplicated and risk averse approach to responding to information requests; and
  • a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive in the dissemination of claim-related information.

The report notes that the increase in information requests in late 2012 was sudden and unprecedented, but it could have been anticipated, prepared for and possibly prevented. In particular, part of the reason for the high volume of requests is that people were not able to obtain information through other means.

“If appropriately detailed information were available via the website, if call centre staff were able to provide adequate answers to more questions, and if EQC automatically sent scopes of work to customers sooner after they were completed, then the need for formal information requests would be greatly reduced.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • streamlining the processing of claim file information requests;
  • improving the quality of information and  service provided by call centre staff;
  • considering the automatic provision of property reports to owners; and
  • improving website delivery of information.

EQC is now undertaking a major business improvement initiative so that, by the end of April 2014, the problem of delay in responding to information requests should be fully resolved.

The Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the measures implemented by EQC in restoring Privacy Act and OIA compliance.

RAW DATA: Information fault lines Accessing EQC Information in Canterbury (PDF)2.83 MB

Comments and questions

Smokescreen!!! Distraction!!! The big ticket items are unfair assessments & 3 year processing period for simple claims. I don't bump into people complaining about privacy breaches, but there are thousands complaining of being either forgotten or ripped off!!