Eighteen months after Mel Deacon’s Proserpine property was hammered by Cyclone Debbie in early 2017, her insurer, Youi, has finally agreed to pay to demolish the cyclone-ravaged home.
But the North Queensland woman was far from satisfied that the bitter claim dispute has ended, claiming that the traumatic insurance process, and not the cyclone itself, destroyed her home.
"A lot of people say, are you happy?" Deacon told ABC. "Happiness isn't really an option when the house, in my opinion and that of my builders and engineers, was destroyed by the insurance process and not by the cyclone. I've made the decision to demolish it and I'll get rid of the land and not, for a really long time, own a property again."
Youi paid to install a tarpaulin over her damaged roof, but Deacon said it left gaping holes causing far more damage when it rained.
Youi disputed the extent of the damage, but a Financial Ombudsman Service decision found the insurer liable for the damage.
Despite the finding, Youi paid Deacon just $161,000 – well below the $270,000 she was insured for and her quotes to fix the damage – and closed her case against her will.
In June, Deacon’s home was featured in a 7.30 broadcast and was shown to have been riddled with mould, had widespread water damage, and had gaps where the roof should have been.
After the story’s broadcast, two Youi representatives met with Deacon and her federal member of parliament, the LNP’s George Christensen, to resolve the dispute.
Christensen said it was clear the property was “absolutely stuffed” and a complete write-off.
"The good thing is the very senior representatives of Youi who came to look at it also recognised pretty quickly that was the situation," Christensen told the publication. “It's obviously sad that anyone has to go through that sort of trauma after a natural disaster to try and get a fix to what should be a simple service that they're paying for."
Deacon believed Youi only relented after her story was featured.
To increase the pressure on her insurer, Deacon made a submission to the royal commission and lodged a follow-up dispute with the financial ombudsman.
"It was probably becoming quite obvious that I would have won and I think that by folding they avoided having another decision passed by the ombudsman," Deacon told ABC. "They have offered to pay out the full amount insured ($270,000) and pay the full cost of demolition."
In a statement, Youi acknowledged that Deacon’s claim “took an unacceptably long time to resolve” and apologised for it.
"We are pleased that Ms Deacon has now been settled in full and will begin to get her repairs underway," the insurer said.
Deacon said the royal commission should look into making lasting changes to simplify the claims process and improve dispute resolution for consumers.
“I think the insurers have these gaps that they can go through as big business and they take them,” Deacon told ABC. “I think the only way to actually stop that from happening is to close those holes. (Youi Insurance) just took every single opportunity that they could just to win, so it became really unnecessarily adversarial."