RAS is making regular visits to Westport to ensure all homeowners making a claim following the floods can get free advice and support when working through their insurance claims.

One of the team who regularly makes the trip from Christchurch is RAS adviser Nik Behrens. He says flood damaged homes are not habitable and many people are living in temporary accommodation while waiting for repairs or rebuilding. Adding to the stress is the fact that most people have little experience with insurance policies.

“Many people need some experienced independent advice when working through their insurance claims. They don’t deal with this every day, but we do.” He encourages everyone in that situation to get in touch with RAS. That can be done through the Flood Recovery Community Hub, calling RAS directly on 0800 777 299 or emailing info@advisory.org.nz.

RAS gives independent, impartial advice about insurance policies. It can link people to free legal advice through Community Law Canterbury if necessary. The team can also talk with insurers on homeowners’ behalf, if people aren’t confident in doing so themselves.

The service was originally set up by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) in 2013 to help homeowners navigate insurance claims following the Canterbury earthquakes. It is now managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to assist home owners impacted by any natural disaster. The RAS team have assisted homeowners affected by disasters around Aotearoa, including the flood that swamped Edgecombe in April 2017 and the fire which destroyed about half of the homes in Lake Ōhau village last year.

Common insurance questions

Nik says insurers are very responsive to people’s situations in Westport and it is good to talk with them directly. But often homeowners do not have a full understanding of exactly what their coverage is. If people have questions, RAS is able to talk with insurers on people’s behalf or go through their policy document with them.

A common question at the moment is “what is in my scope of works” – the list of repairs their insurer says it will cover. It is important that before they sign off on anything, homeowners are sure the work listed will actually cover everything they need repaired. The RAS team is “happy to walk through their property and discuss their scope of works with them,” Nik says.

There have also been questions about the level of insurance people have for their homes.

Most house policies specify the ‘sum insured’ – a maximum amount paid to rebuild a home. This can be very different from rateable value or how much you paid for it.

Nik says a few people have found themselves under-insured, partly due to rising building costs at the moment. “When you are taking out a policy it is really important that you know how much it will cost to rebuild your home and that your home is insured for that amount.”

Homeowners also often underestimate the value of the items in their homes. “People often don’t realise how much everything they have is worth. But it all adds up when you have to replace everything, all at once.”

Experienced advice

Nik and the RAS are coming to Westport about once a fortnight – “whenever there are people needing to see us”.

Westport is a “very word-of-mouth” community, he notes. “We are seeing a lot of people who have been told about us by friends and family who we have met on a previous visit.”

Whether people just want a final check before agreeing to an insurance payment or have questions about their insurance policy, he recommends they get in touch with RAS for free advice.

“You don’t know what you don’t know. We deal with insurance matters every day and we are certainly happy to give advice.”