A full 18 months has passed since the second-worst cyclone in Australian history devastated north Queensland, but some victims say they are still struggling to get their insurers to pay out to have their homes fixed.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said claims lodged due to Cyclone Debbie reached more than 75,000, with a total value of $1.5bn.
One claimant, Ray Beetz, said he is battling CommInsure over repairs to his cyclone-soaked – and now mould-infested – house.
"These insurance companies are a law on their own,” Beetz told A Current Affair. “They don't give a stuff. They will shake your hand and slap you with the other one and tell you they are doing you a favour."
According to a CommInsure spokesperson, the claim amount determined by the financial ombudsman service had been paid out and the insurance excess waived to recognise the time taken to resolve Beetz's claim.
Also locked in a battle with her insurer was Belinda Faust, who said her house had shifted as a result of the cyclone, but had been told by Westpac Insurance that it was “wear and tear”, the report said.
In a statement, a Westpac spokesperson said that in cases of disputes, they "carefully consider all aspects of the claim including a range of factors such as if any damage was pre-existing or a result of the claims event."
Another claimant, Julie Eggers, had an engineer's report showing her house was shunted when a tree fell on it during the storm, and was later removed. She then claimed her doors and windows won’t shut – damages that would require an estimated half a million dollars to fix.
An Insurance Australia Group spokesperson said Eggers already accepted their settlement offer.
Dave Keane, who has been fighting on behalf of cyclone-affected claimants to force insurance companies to pay out, said he had helped some 200 victims get a total of an extra $20m in insurance money.
"So insurance companies have tried to withhold $20m of what was rightfully claimable money," Keane told the news agency.
Keane said that after 23 years in the industry, he already knows “the tricks and the tactics” of insurers, who he claimed are all “interested in doing is showing up wear and tear and what they call lack of proper maintenance, so they can deny the claim."
ICA’s Campbell Fuller slammed the assertion as “absurd”, however, saying the industry paid out 97% of claims in any given year.
He also criticised the lack of figures to back up Keane’s claim that insurers had tried to withhold $20m of “rightfully claimable money” to Debbie-hit Queenslanders.
"The industry accepts that a handful of claims could have been handled a little bit better, but by and large the industry response has been very good," Fuller told A Current Affair. "David Keane has a business model in North Queensland that relies on him helping customers for money."