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Residents hit hard waiting for Cyclone Debbie insurance claims to be processed

Rachel Riga, Saturday December 23, 2017 - 11:01 EDT
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Thomas Dunne says the cyclone has cost him more than $800,000 in lost income. - ABC

With the cyclone season underway, hundreds of residents in north Queensland are still waiting for their homes and businesses to be fixed, nine months after Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit the coast.

The on March 28, carrying windspeeds of up to 260kph.

Thomas Dunne, owner of O'Duinn's Irish Pub in Proserpine, said he had been having ongoing troubles with his insurance company, SLE Worldwide, since April.

"I have never received a full scope of works and it's now the end of the year," he said.

"We have received partial scopes for the bar areas and the front and side balconies, but at no stage has the insurance company requested a full scope of works of all the balconies, upstairs and downstairs."

Mr Dunne's pub has remained closed and in ruins since the storm hit, and it has cost him more than $800,000 in income.



"It's costing me around $80,000 to $100,000 a month and we have dozens of rooms here, so with all the builders around town we could have been taking in even more money.

"It's been very hard because we lived upstairs so we've lost our place of residence, lost our business, and the building has so much damage, so I really don't know what we're going to do. I can't see us reopening."

Mr Dunne said his insurance company had offered him a settlement of about $350,000, but he believed there was millions of dollars worth of damage to the pub.

The process has taken a toll on him and his wife financially and emotionally, with the pair now relying on government assistance and charity donations.



"I've been hospitalised twice since August, both really serious issues," he said.

"My wife and I are both receiving counselling every week and we're both on medication for anxiety and major depressive disorder."

In a statement, SLE Worldwide Australia said it had been working to make sure Mr Dunne's claim had been handled in a fair and reasonable manner, by engaging qualified independent contractors to provide unbiased assessments and seeking the insured's cooperation at each step.

It said a cash settlement had been made in full as well as the final settlement of the claim, which included repairs and business interruption losses arising from Cyclone Debbie.

House a health hazard

For homeowner Matthew Gray, in Cannonvale, the storm caused damage to his roof, and several weeks later he discovered his home was covered in toxic mould.

"It took about three months from when the cyclone hit before someone from our insurance company came to have a look at the damage we had, and in that time my family became quite sick," he said.

Mr Gray said while he had settled his contents claim, he was in stalemate with NRMA over the cause of the mould, and the matter was now being mediated by the Financial Ombudsman Service.



"I've been told by builders the mould's been caused by water ingress through the roof, but we've been told by people sent from our insurance company that it's humidity damage," he said.

"What they're trying to say is the roof won't be repaired and they're just prepared to come in, spray and repaint the house.

"But after six months the mould eats into the boards. The only way to remove it is to demolish the house."

In a statement, NRMA Insurance acknowledged there had been conflicting views from its experts and Mr Gray's experts regarding the scope of repairs required for his home.

It said the company was working with the Financial Ombudsman Service, which had advised that Mr Gray was getting an engineer's report, and all parties would be able to come together some time in the new year to finalise the claim




Insurers working hard to close claims

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said the industry's response to Cyclone Debbie claimants had been the fastest on record, with the closure rate for claims running at least 20 per cent ahead of any previous equivalent catastrophic cyclone.

ICA figures show insurance losses from the storm have reached $1.613 billion, from more than 73,550 claims made across Queensland and northern New South Wales, with more than 90 per cent of those now closed.

Spokesman Campbell Fuller said the council had been up to north Queensland on more than 50 occasions to support people through the claims process.

"Those large scale property damage claims tend to be the ones that have attracted the most interest from consumers or the most complaints from consumers," he said.

"A lot of that is around developing the scopes of work, determining what is covered by the insurance policy and what isn't, and then trying to get assessors, builders, specifiers and other trades people to those properties before the next cyclone season.

"Many of these disputes have been resolved and the industry is committed to resolving remaining disputes as quickly as possible."

Cyclone Debbie ranks as the second most expensive cyclone in Australian history, and the most expensive cyclone to ever hit Queensland.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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