Cameron Preston reflects on how Cantabs are getting used to living in the aftermath of the quakes, but aren't giving up their battles with their insurers

By Cameron Preston*

Years ago I lived and worked in Cape Town, South Africa.

One day my wife and I took a tour of one of the black townships that sit on the city’s outskirts.

The poverty was unspeakable.

I asked our guide a simple question.

The regime that had made these people live in these camps had long since disappeared, so why do these people still live here?

It is their life, the guide explained.

They did not know or remember of a time when it was any different.

They have built relationships, bonds with the people around them, and they have no money to go elsewhere – this is their life.

While the residents of Christchurch have not experienced any such equivalent oppression (with perhaps the notable exception of the 200 remaining “red zoners”) I see similar acceptance being played out in Canterbury.

More than a year ago I questioned whether the insurance industry had hit a wall in the settlement of insurance claims.

The latest data from the “bellwether” insurer Southern Response show that 40% of over EQC cap claims are still to be settled – after nearly five years.

Whether it be Tower Insurance’s trading halt, IAG’s 11th hour capital injection from Warren Buffet, or Southern Response’s recent request for yet another $500mln from the taxpayer, it appears the financial reporting season in August will show insurers are really feeling the pain of the patient but determined Canterbury homeowners.

Despite a massive push from Australian giant IAG to force their claimants into “out of policy” cash settlements, Cantabrians have become battle hardened, but more importantly, their environment has been altered for so long, memories of their previous lives are beginning to fade.

Insurance experts are being thrown at homeowners in the vain attempt to convince them that unless they accept lowball cash settlements, their lives simply won’t move on.

However after nearly five years, insurers are starting to realise that homeowners have grown accustom to this intimidation, bullying and threats of delay.

What’s another two, three or even five years of waiting if you have already suffered five?

Claimants have made lives for themselves in their damage homes, they have had to.

They have moved on from the wreckage of the earthquakes.

But they won’t accept anything less than their full insurance entitlements under their policies.

Their insurer has now stolen too much of their lives. 

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*Cameron Preston is a Christchurch accountant and homeowner who has longstanding unresolved quake insurance claims.