Independent advocate defies Brownlee

Gerry Brownlee

An insurance advocacy service for quake-hit Cantabrians is planning to open.

Failed efforts to obtain government support for an insurance advocacy service have led a group of Christchurch people to set up a charitable trust with city council funding.

It is called the Canterbury Insurance Advocacy Service.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Minister Gerry Brownlee poured cold water on the advocacy plans and refused to fund it, claiming it would just make things more complicated.

Instead, Mr Brownlee is promoting the Residential Advisory Service, which is aimed at linking people with appropriate services.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and cut across the options that already exist through the office of the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman, legal and organisation-specific resolution services," he says.

“But the Residential Advisory Service will play a key role in helping people find their way through their issues.”

But community leaders are unimpressed with Mr Brownlee’s service and believe more advocacy is required in response to numerous cases of hardship and stalled insurance claims.

Quake-affected residents continue to live in sub-standard homes with tarpaulins over roofs and dampness affected interiors. Thousands are enduring a winter with cracks in their homes’ walls and ceilings.

The Canterbury Insurance Advocacy Service is establishing the charitable trust, with support from the Christchurch City Council with an initial grant of $200,000.

Acting chairman and a red zone community advocate Mike Coleman says other funding will also be sought.

Each claimant will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with the primary focus on helping those suffering from health problems or financial stress and who are struggling to progress their residential insurance claims.

The people behind the new trust include Mr Coleman, Ali Jones, a former journalist and the trust’s communications manager; Dean Lester, an insurance advocate; Kiri Hider, Carmel Jaggar, Maria Thackwell, (from the TC3 group, an advocacy group for people who own properties on liquefaction-prone land requiring special foundations); Annette Rutledge, a quantity surveyor; Victoria Whitta, also a quantity surveyor; and city councillor Glenn Livingstone.

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This story seems to be contrary to the comments of other community leaders, who seem to be saying the service Brownlee launched is very helpful. In fact one of those who described it in the Press as "fantastic" was Ali Jones. Also I note from the Press that not many calls are coming in, despite the new service being well publicised. Any chance the Mike Coleman advocacy service is a solution in search of a problem? He does seem to have spent much of the past two years crying wolf.

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This will really "put the cat amongst the pigeons" (make that turkeys!)

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The advisory service may well be helpful to some but for many it will simply be another trip on the merry go round of delay, deny, lie and deceive which many have the perception of being the stance of EQC and insurers. To prove Gerry is right he should fund an advocacy service which if underused will prove his point and improve his currently tarnished image as an effective advocate for his voters' best interests.
Whatever your view it is a fact that many insured property owners have been filed by EQC and insurers generally in terms of effective communication, explanation and sufficient repairs to make life bearable. Continued failure will result in citizens voting with their cheque books and votes at election time and the law of unintended consequences may be a harsh master.

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