The insurance money is in the bank; the only problem for Hayden Downer and Maria Hollingshead is that their bank will not let them touch it.

The Pākōwhai Rd residents who were hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle are attempting to rebuild a variety of dwellings and sheds on their own property, plus buy a neighbouring house for Mr Downer to renovate and eventually live in.

Their insurer, FMG, has assessed the property and buildings and paid the pair the necessary funds for the project to go ahead.

It is just that ASB will not release the money.

A spokesperson for FMG said these instances were “rare” and any questions about what was or was not happening with the money should be referred to the bank.

ASB said it would not comment on this specific situation, but did supply a general statement explaining the process of dispensing insurance money.

“We feel deeply for everyone affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and we are doing everything in our power to assist our customers to repair their properties and businesses and move forward,” the statement said.

“As is required under the Property Law Act 2007, where a bank has a registered interest in a damaged property, funds from an insurance payout are paid to the bank in the first instance.

“In February this year, in response to the significant damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand’s five largest banks established a new way of working with insurance companies.

“Under the agreed process, up to $100,000 is immediately available to the customer, and the remaining sum is put on hold until the bank receives satisfactory evidence that the funds will be used for remediation work on the damaged property.

“When the bank’s lending is secured against a property, the bank needs to ensure that any claim paid out on the property is used for repairs, to restore the property’s value.

“Alternatively, the customer has the option to pay back their loan to the bank in full. After that, the bank would release any remaining funds.”

As you would expect for a property that incorporates multiple houses and outbuildings, it is not an insignificant amount and Mr Downer was quite excited when the funds came through.

This was particularly because February’s flooding left them with just the clothes they were rescued in.

“But it’s just one thing after another,” Mr Downer said.

“You deal with the insurance for 10 months and it’s ‘yay, we’ve got the money’ and then ASB puts the handbrake on.”

The rebuild is continuing, but not as quickly as it would if the funds were available.

Friends and family are donating time and expertise or charging reduced rates to reflect Mr Downer and Ms Hollingshead’s limited budget.

After paying “$1000 a month nearly” in insurance premiums — and enduring the process of trying to rebuild their lives and get their property classified 2C — Ms Hollingshead is pretty fed up.

“Every time you get to a certain point there’s another barrier, which we think is unfair,” Ms Hollingshead said.

Ms Hollingshead is the partner of Mr Downer’s father, who also lives at the address, with the mortgage in her and her stepson’s name.

She said they would keep doing the rebuild themselves and keep battling to access the money and hoped something good eventually came from the whole experience.

— Hamish Bidwell

 

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