A consumer group says there’s a “big push” from insurers to cash settle building claims from the east coast flood catastrophe, potentially leaving vulnerable victims at risk.
The event is Australia’s worst flood on record, with insured losses of more than $4.8 billion and close to 225,000 claims, with 30% of them closed.
Financial Rights Legal Centre Acting Director of Casework Jane Foley says that with access to trades and materials limited, insurers are increasingly looking to cash settle.
“Most policies allow insurers to decide whether to cash settle or not.”
But she warns a cash settlement can leave consumers exposed as inflationary pressures bite.
“Maybe they don’t get enough, and you can’t go back and ask for more – it doesn’t work that way. Maybe they can’t get people to come to carry out the repairs, or they are just not capable of running repairs themselves.”
Insurer-led rebuilds come with a warranty, she says.
“[Insurers] are definitely pushing cash payments. It’s a lot less claims management for them and if there’s a problem along the way it’s not their problem.
“A lot of complaints are coming from people who live in remote areas and insurers can’t get the trades there. But the insured can’t get the trades there either.”
Neither the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) nor major insurers IAG and Suncorp have been able to tell insuranceNEWS.com.au what percentage of flood building claims settled to date have been cash-settled.
“Building cash settlements have been or will be made for properties deemed a total loss by their insurer,” an ICA spokesperson said.
“Some insurance policies outline the decision to repair or cash-settle is the insurer’s decision to make, but they will consult with the customer throughout the process.”
One insurance industry source told insuranceNEWS.com.au the default position is usually for insurers to carry out repairs, unless a customer requests a cash settlement or there are underinsurance issues.
As for whether insurers are pushing cash settlements because it’s easier for them in the current environment, the source says they “have heard that, but not at the major insurers”.
ICA says if a claim is cash-settled the insurer must provide a cash settlement fact sheet that outlines a range of information including how it was calculated and options available.
It also warns that mortgage contracts may require the insurer to pay cash settlements to the lender.
“Anyone who is taking cash is doing it [with their] eyes open,” the industry source said.
IAG told insuranceNEWS.com.au it is focused is on providing the “highest level of support” for those impacted by a severe weather event.
“We provide immediate temporary accommodation and support for customers with homes that have been damaged and assess the repairs to determine the Scope of Works for the rebuild/repair of their home,” a spokesperson said.
“Through our national network of builders, we can then undertake the required repairs or the rebuild and offer a lifetime guarantee, making this process as easy as possible for our customer.
“Our customers also have the option to choose a cash settlement. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as wishing to use their own builder, or if their home is a total loss, for example, destroyed by a bushfire or they may wish to downsize or move to a different location.
“Some customers’ homes have structural issues which can restrict our ability to warrant repairs. In these instances we may provide a cash settlement for the required repairs, enabling the customer to attend to any structural concerns. However, this is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
Suncorp says the number of customers opting for cash settlement is “on a par with similar events”.
“Our impacted customers are fully supported by our extensive network of repairers where possible,” a spokesman told insuranceNEWS.com.au.