West Auckland couple battle insurer, EQC after driveway washout

Gill Higgins
Source: Fair Go

A West Auckland couple had their driveway dramatically ripped apart by the storms last year but no one is willing to cover the huge cost of fixing it.

Linda Storey and Jim Rafferty can no longer access the public road from their home by car.

They have to drive up the landslide, navigate some hastily made wooden steps, walk across the neighbour’s paddock and then use a second car that they’ve since had to buy.

It’s a long and often slippery trek, especially when lugging shopping and animal feed back and forth.

It’s also draining, particularly for Linda who has arrhythmia and often gets out of breath. And worrying too.

Linda explained: “We can't get fire or ambulance down to the house, if anything happens to us we’d have to be air lifted out and we can't get vets in or our pets quickly out. We lost one of our dogs back in January, he died in our arms in the lounge.”

The couple can’t believe they’re still having to cope with this nine months after the damage occurred.

At first, their insurer FMG said it would get the driveway fixed. After all, the couple had full rural insurance that covered their driveway. Their policy states that driveways will be reinstated. But FMG then said its only responsibility was for the asphalt and sub-base surface, not for the land underneath. But what’s the point of a surface if there’s nothing to put it on?

The cost of the resurfacing is approximately $60,000, which FMG promptly paid, but that leaves the couple facing a staggering $600,000 to $900,000 cost for the land. FMG advised them that land reinstatement after a natural disaster falls to EQC. That’s true in many cases, but not for this couple.

EQC will only cover driveway damage that occurs within 60 metres of a property. Linda and Jim’s landslide occurred 250 metres from their house because, like many Kiwis, they have a rural property. There was no funding available from Auckland Council or the Mayoral Relief Fund either. Jim told Fair Go “everyone is trying to wash their hands of it”.

It's an important issue for all kiwis given catastrophic events caused by climate change are increasing. Climate Change Minister James Shaw told Fair Go that “they’re increasing in severity and frequency” adding that “people’s lived experiences are starting to bite, not just in the Waitakere’s after last year’s storms, but in Tairawhiti where we’ve seen several once-in-a-lifetime floods, and down in Buller and Westport”.

He has a warning too “one of the things I need to be clear about is that not every loss is going to be able to be covered. Property owners are going to have to be mindful of the nature of risks”.

But why the cut-off of 60 metres? Fair Go asked EQC Minister David Clarke for an interview, but instead we were given a statement. It said the limit was in place “to be fair to all New Zealanders, as everyone pays the same levy”.

Fair Go isn’t sure that makes sense. If EQC provides funding towards a house rebuild in cases where it’s uninsured, there’s a payment of up to $150,000 regardless of the size of the house. So why not provide a capped payment for driveway damage, regardless of how far from the house the damage occurred? A driveway is a driveway, however long it is.

Jim and Linda’s situation also raises questions about FMG’s response. Their lawyer, Andrew Ferguson from Shine Lawyers, says that the couple’s policy refers to reinstatement of the driveway to ‘as new’. He believes this means it’s their responsibility under the law to cover the full cost. At present, FMG have contributed less than 10% of what’s required.

FMG told Fair Go it remains at the table and will continue to be involved to bring the main parties together to “help find a collective resolution that will need to extend beyond insurance”.

Jim and Linda are holding on to the hope that more help might be on the way. Linda says it’s the only thing they can do.

“We don't have the funds, that's why we’re battling still, I mean who has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank just waiting there doing nothing?”

They hope at the very least that this will be a warning story to others to be prepared. They also want insurers to pay attention to new legislation that requires transparency as they feel the lack of land cover in their policy wasn’t clear.

Shaw says greater clarity is on the way from the Government too, as the new National Adaptation Plan will address how property owners can be best prepared, and who might cover which aspects of natural disaster damage. He says it’s going to be vital for Kiwis to have this “we need to make sure people and communities have much better information at their fingertips”.