"Highlighting the inadequacies of the way in which the earthquakes of 2010-2012 were handled by the insurance industry! "

Backstory to The Christchurch Fiasco…


…the Insurance Aftershock and its Implications for New Zealand and Beyond.

Courtesy of Micah Richardson, “Roots and Cracks”

Like most other people living in Christchurch, on September 4, 2010 I was to experience the incredible force of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake at close quarters.  I live not far from Kirwee which was the earthquake epicentre. As a result of that event my home was severely damaged.  Amongst other serious damage,  the 500 litre water tank in the ceiling broke loose, and the contents flowed through the entire upper floor and throughout the ceilings and floor below. The house was a broken, chaotic, saturated mess. On the morning of the earthquake, being organized types, and worried about our situation, my husband and I drove down to the State Insurance offices in Riccarton to see if they were open. To our surprise we found a note stuck to the front window which said “ring the Earthquake Commission”. Admittedly it was a Saturday, but under the circumstances one might have expected to find a staff member there.

So that’s what we did. We made the call to the Commission at about 9.30am. I could not believe it but we were the 2000th or so call that morning! After a brief conversation we were allocated official earthquake claim numbers and those numbers remain with us today- now into our third year since the event.

We spent a strange weekend wondering what to do next, where we would live etc. Then again on Monday morning we wandered back down to the State Insurance office wanting to talk about our circumstances with the ‘appropriate’ staff member. They ‘had no one we could talk to’ and for the next four months they fobbed us off from any meaningful contact or meeting. We made many visits to their offices over that period, wanting to arrange an assessor and discuss accommodation allowance and storage possibilities. At one point we had a conversation with the office manager expressing our concern at the lack of communication around our claim. Still no one would agree to meet with us to discuss the situation. It finally took a formal request from a law firm to arrange a meeting. Since the earthquake we have had what can only be described as an extended nightmare with our insurer. But that’s another story.

I did not start writing The Christchurch Fiasco until September of 2011. I remember the day well. I had gone along for a regular session with my Psychotherapy supervisor about my plans for the year. During that conversation we began to discuss our experiences and expressed our disbelief around the events transpiring in the city. By the end of that hour a subconscious process had begun to percolate and by the end of the day I knew what had to be done.

I feel that a great injustice is being perpetrated in this City and that the rest of New Zealand has very little idea of what is taking place here and the extent of the battles people are facing with their insurers, EQC, local and central government- and for many people their financial livelihoods are also at stake. This is not the result we pay our premiums for……….

I feel strongly that this city has a story that really requires telling, and in the absence of any thorough and balanced media coverage or analysis, I have taken it upon myself to undertake that task. This is not my personal story, it is the story of an affected population struggling with bad faith insurers and a government that is failing to assist in their plight.

As a culture, we New Zealanders place much emphasis on positivity and applauding our successes and yet I feel it is important to balance our successes with acknowledgement of our failures as this is the only way to facilitate change and ultimately improve the society in which we live. So do not imagine that the pages of my book are a negative indictment on what has transpired – rather they attempt to bring some transparency to the events in Christchurch and place these events in a global framework so that the Nation can understand the pattern which is unfolding and ensure that we address the issues that have arisen more effectively, and quickly so that we are better prepared next time round. And let’s face it – there will be a next time…. this is seismic New Zealand after-all!

I began writing The Christchurch Fiasco the day after that supervision session – much had already transpired despite the fact that we were only one year into the post disaster phase. Right from the outset I was torn between writing the book from a therapeutic standpoint or approaching it from a purely insurance industry/corporate-focused approach. I decided to go with the latter as I felt that ultimately corporatism and government are where the problems are generated and where fundamental changes need to occur.  My past professional background in the corporate world served to bring some clarity to the topic. At the heart of the book my focus was, and still is, the affected population of Christchurch, the need to change the national/corporate system which is not geared for good outcomes and the desire to inform the rest of New Zealand of their substantial vulnerability if we do not make changes to this system.  I have also proposed some changes for the policymakers to consider.

Over the past two years I have talked with many people and listened to their stories, dug under the news, become involved in internet earthquake support groups. I have participated in Community Workshops, meetings and protests.  I have listened to, and examined the ramblings of people from Government, CERA and the City Council plus the ubiquitous ‘corporate front people’. In the interim I worked away behind my computer, working quietly in the background writing and establishing my Blog and simultaneously continuing to try to resolve my own insurance nightmare.  To be sure, my own insurance process has provided me with a wealth of material all of its own.

Like many of you folk, more than two years down the track , my insurance claim is still not settled either.  The intention of this book is to empower New Zealanders to be part of the decision-making processes in order to create a better system and a sustainable society. We do have the power to change those things that work against us………….

~Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.

If you would like to contribute a post on this topic then see Guest Archives.

Author: Sarah-Alice Miles

Love to write, create and watch the clouds move across the sky - these days in the Netherlands. 'Art allows us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time'.

2 thoughts on “Backstory to The Christchurch Fiasco…

  1. I read the book excerpt in the Press on the weekend. Especially interesting to me are the record profits being made by the industry worldwide in spite of quite large calamitous events (Katrina, Japanese tsunami, Christchurch quakes). I have come to the conclusion that New Zealanders, living in an earthquake prone country should be very afraid of another big one happening, given the conduct of the insurance industry here in Christchurch. Certainly, insurers will be back in the black long before we’ve finished dealing with the problems created by their greed and ineptness. Not only are a vast number of private homeowners seriously out of pocket, in itself an abuse of the principle of insurance, but the industry has as succeeded in foisting large costs it should be bearing onto the NZ taxpayer. Just talk to anybody that has been stonewalled by their insurance company over the government red zone scheme to see what I mean. Makes you wonder if somebody in Wellington is being paid off by the industry. Insurers have certainly been enabled to do what they’re doing by changes made to the building code and by a lack of interest in the plight of homeowners by our elected representatives. A Christchurch builder was quoted in a story this year as saying that Christchurch will face problems with houses in 10 -15 years time along the lines of the leaky homes situation now because homes that should have been demolished have been repaired instead. And don’t get me started with our politicians. A call I made to my elected MP, (whom I voted for last time), asking for some help with our situation elicited instead of assistance, a visit from two goons working for the diplomatic protection squad of the NZ Police. Lovely. It is quite unconscionable and immoral that a government could sit idly by and allow thousands of survivors of a major natural disaster to be rorted and screwed by the very organisations to which they pay good money to pick up the pieces after an event like this.


  2. I was very moved listening to the a/c on national radio. After everything that has happened it is wrong for the insurers to deny people what they are entitled to. The insurers are obliged to act in the utmost good faith. My genuine advice is never give in, never give up, keep on fighting for your rights. I have written several letters to various newspapers and I urge people in Christchurch to get stuck into your politicians, make them earn their money by going out to bat for you. God bless you all and may God help you all.

    Kind Regards


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