Imagine settling an insurance claim a decade ago, only to discover you were still owed $100,000.
That’s the reality for hundreds of people who suffered damage to their properties after the Christchurch earthquake and went on to settle their claims with Southern Response.
The insurer has a $130 million pot of insurance money to dish out to homeowners it underpaid after the quakes.
However, despite extensive efforts, it is yet to locate many of them - leaving millions unclaimed.
Insurance lawyer Peter Woods says it appears many homeowners are unaware they are eligible.
“Some people think it's too good to be true, but it's not,” he said.
“This is what people are entitled to and should have had eight or 10 years ago, so it's compensation in my view, but lots of clients see it as a windfall. It's just money from heaven.”
To be eligible, homeowners need to have settled their claim with AMI and Southern Response, before October 1 2014.
Woods says most of those claimants were short-changed by 20%.
“We're talking about settlements from a long time ago, and a lot of people who settled, their houses would have been destroyed so they would have moved on,” he said.
“Lots of them would have been elderly and they would have passed on, so people don't know about it. The estates haven't figured out there is a claim there and compensation available.”
Southern Response was ordered to make the payments after a series of legal actions, kicked off by Christchurch couple Alison and Karl Dodds.
The Dodds claimed they have been underpaid by Southern Response and took the insurer to the High Court to prove it. They won in 2019, and the decision was later held up by the Court of Appeal in 2020.
The Government, which owns Southern Response, has now agreed to pay out 2700 homeowners who were underpaid between 2011 and October 2014.
But to date, only half of those have taken up the offer, with 1400 people still owed money. Most will be owed around $100,000.
For the Dodds, who spent years fighting the insurer, the lack of take-up has been shocking.
“The two years leading to the High Court case were the most traumatic of our lives,” Karl said.
“We were totally entrenched every night in researching what Southern Response had actually done.”
Alison was also in disbelief, saying it was a simple process to apply.
“I just feel really quite emotional about it all, I just hope people do follow through if they haven't yet,” she said.
“We feel we've put so much of ourselves into this, over a long period of time, so we want people to just take it up.”
Their hard work is having a big impact on some though, including former Canterbury woman Lee Henderson.
Henderson, who now lives in Auckland, lost her home in the town of Kaiapoi during the quakes. She received her extra entitlement of around $100,000 earlier this year.
“I was so elated I had all my shoes and my clothes on, and I just jumped in the swimming pool with sheer delight,” she said.
“I couldn't believe it when I looked at my bank account and my mortgage had gone right down to next to nothing. […] It was like I had just won lotto, but it was actually money from the insurance I was entitled to.”
Those wanting to check their eligibility simply need to head to the Southern Response website or engage a lawyer.