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Assessors fly in, thousands added to call centres for flood claims

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Insurers have brought in more than 100 overseas assessors on special visas after being hit with hundreds of thousands of flood claims.

Claims so far are worth more than $3.34 billion from the deluge that hit Queensland and NSW during February and March in Australia’s costliest insured losses flood event on record.

It was declared a catastrophe covering 81 shires by the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA).

“This event has been very large. We have spent a lot of time on the ground, I have been to Lismore a few times in particular,” ICA CEO Andrew Hall said while hosting a “virtual townhall” guide on the claims process on Thursday night.

“We've brought in more than 100 assessors now from overseas on special visas and are talking with government actively when we are struggling to find staff and fill the gap,” he said.

More than 300 people registered for the inaugural online townhall, located from Maryborough in north Queensland down to the Illawarra, and over 100 questions were submitted in advance.

Insurers are actively responding to the deluge of claims, Mr Hall says, hiring thousands of people in recent weeks at call centres, though he warned while the vast number of insurance claims will go through relatively “quickly and seamlessly,” there was “always a percentage that are complicated and take a lot longer”.

"When there is 200,000 in the mix that number can be quite a lot,” he said. “That is not an excuse for what is happening, it is more just to give you the context. It has been a very big event.”

The townhall was attended by Australian Financial Complaints Authority Lead Ombudsman Insurance John Price, who told attendees its best information was “obtained on the ground,” listening to local communities and personal observations.

"We want to know when the water first inundated the property, whether water previously inundated through the roof, was there water escaping from the gutters and the drains inundating the property prior to the flood,” he said.

Flood complaints typically relate to financial hardship, scope of works, cash settlements, poor repairs, denial of liability, and misrepresentation by insurers, banks and brokers, he said.

Online attendees praised the townhall, with Kate in NSW saying it had been “really, really helpful and informative” and Krystal in east Lismore commenting “you have touched on everything that a lot of us needed to know”.

However, she also said communication with her insurer had been so poor she had “lost faith in the system of the insurance companies and it is really hard”.

“It’s been limbo land,” she said. “We need to know what is going on. There are tradies being chucked at you, things being ripped out that shouldn’t be ripped out - there just doesn’t seem to be a great process of community engagement for people who are going through such a traumatic experience.”

Mr Hall said he was pleased she had insurance, and noted upcoming community forums in May and June would be a chance to raise specific claim concerns in one-on-one meetings.

“There are obligations your insurers need to meet and if they are not meeting them, then please make sure you raise a complaint or follow them up,” Mr Hall said.

The ICA also says that instead of a government-backed flood reinsurance pool, Australia needs to build flood levies and lift homes where needed - “or if there are communities that need to be completely relocated, we actually have that discussion now”.

“Rather than spending millions and millions and millions of dollars on subsidising insurers’ premiums we think that money should be spent on actually making that house floodproof in the first place,” Mr Hall said, pointing to mitigation success in Roma in Queensland, Launceston in Tasmania and Wagga Wagga in NSW.

“There are many towns in this country where once the infrastructure has been built, people are able to take insurance out again and get that coverage,” he said.

ICA has outlined planned in-person community forums in NSW, with dates and locations for Queensland forums in June to be announced soon. Here are the locations announced so far, all at 5.30pm. Registration in advance is essential.

Murwillumbah: Monday May 23, Murwillumbah Services Club.

Mullumbimby: Tuesday May 24, Mullumbimby Ex-Service Club

Lismore: Wednesday May 25, Southern Cross University Lismore campus auditorium

Grafton: Tuesday May 31, Grafton District Services Club

Casino: Wednesday June 1, Casino RSM Club

Lennox Head: Thursday June 2, Lennox Heads Cultural Centre auditorium