The Insurance Council has slammed the Government over a new tribunal being set up to settle Canterbury earthquake claims more quickly.
Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced a bill today to help Cantabrians resolve outstanding residential insurance claims from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
"The Bill delivers on pre-election promises and establishes a tribunal which will enable homeowners to resolve long-standing residential insurance claims including with Southern Response or the Earthquake Commission," he said.
The tribunal would have the ability to award costs or general damages and to appoint independent expert advisers to help it understand technical aspects of claims.
The Insurance Council said it was concerned that only policyholders would be able to bring cases, not insurers.
"This is unfair as it only deals with one half of the problem and the Ministry of Justice agrees, saying it creates inequity of access to justice.
"A tribunal that allowed both sides to bring claims would be fair and balanced and truly working towards the goal of helping everyone find resolutions and move forward from the quakes," Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said.
The Government's own agencies, EQC and Southern Response, accounted for the majority of outstanding claims but neither they nor private insurers were consulted on the bill before its introduction.
"We were given an undertaking that would happen and that has not been followed through on. We have sought repeatedly to engage with the Minister on this process but according to his own advice he and the ministry have spoken only to Treasury," Grafton said in a statement.
Grafton said it had taken far too long for action to be taken.
"The tribunal won't be up and running until 2019, the best part of 18 months since the Government was elected. It will have been nearly nine years since the first quakes, far too long by anyone's measure to be finally trying to sort this out. Insurers want to settle their customers' claims as quickly as possible but we're still receiving, on average, two claims a day from EQC."
The council also said it wanted certainty that the tribunal would respect the rules of natural justice and fair procedure, the need to apply the rules of evidence, to be bound by precedent, and the ability to appeal significant points of law.
"Any bill that does not respect these legal principles will not be supported by the insurance sector," Grafton said.
"The people of Canterbury deserve better than a tardy process that fails the test for best practice policy development."
Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods said the bill would make a real difference for the people of Canterbury.
"People have waited too long to have their claims resolved. This tribunal will be another way to provide closure and help people move on with their lives.
"The delay to resolve residential insurance claims has had significant impact and we need more options to make progress and help them reach an outcome.
"The tribunal will have flexibility to tailor its approach to the needs of each case, and has various options available for resolving claims without a formal hearing, including referral to an independent, funded mediation service."