Thousands of people are still waiting for millions of dollars in insurance claims to be settled four months on from the unprecedented devastation of Tropical Cyclone Seroja in Western Australia’s mid-west.
- Four months after Cyclone Seroja hit the mid-west, thousands of insurance claims are still to be settled
- Some residents are frustrated by what they say is slow communication with insurers
- The Insurance Council of Australia says delays are due to issues, including border closures and skills shortages
While the coastal town of Kalbarri bore the brunt of the cyclone, the system caused widespread damage to houses and businesses across 16 local government areas as it moved south-west across the state.
Some people are continuing to live under roofs covered by tarpaulins as they wait for information from their insurance companies about their damage claims.
Others are still waiting for tradespeople to restore their homes.
Rod O’Bree’s historic Yanget homestead near Geraldton lost portions of its roof tiling in the cyclone.
Temporary make-safe measures of tarps and sandbags have weathered in four months of winter rain and winds, allowing more water into the homestead.
“It’s getting through in a few spots, the drips. We’ve got a few buckets in the roof now,” Mr O’Bree said.
“We are catching a fair bit of it, but the latest bit with the winds we got last weekend have destroyed the sandbags and the tarps.
Mr O’Bree has been told his roof will be fixed soon, but the wait has been frustrating.
No planning without information
Mullewa farmer Rod Messina estimated the damage bill to his farm’s sheds, silos, fences and houses to be around $1 million.
He has also been frustrated at a lengthy wait time to hear the result of his insurance claims.
“We’ve been so busy with a crop this year that a lot of us probably haven’t worried about it too much because it hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds.
“But now that things are starting to slow down and the crop is getting to where it is, we do want to start rebuilding.”
Reports of slow communication
Member for the Agricultural Region Sandra Carr said she was hearing similar concerns about slow communication with insurance companies from people right across the cyclone’s impact zone.
“Things like questioning claims, saying that damage was done prior to the cyclone or not caused by the cyclone, or constantly having to reassess and then just not getting their scope of works,” she said.
“Over the 40,000 square kilometres [of cyclone-affected area], we have people across that whole impact zone who do not have claims that have been approved yet, 4,000 people waiting, still waiting for their claims to be approved.”
Ms Carr urged people to follow the insurance complaints process and to be unafraid to complain if they were unhappy.
“I do think it’s important to reassure people that there is help out there and they are allowed to challenge and ask questions.
“They can firstly go through their insurance company’s internal disputes process, and then there is the Australian Insurance Council, whose role is to liaise between the insurance company and the client.”
Reasons behind delays
Insurance Council of Australia CEO Andrew Hall said delays in repairs were due to a combination of factors, including COVID-19 border closures, a skills shortage and an influx of claims from across the country.
“We are very worried about the communities around the area that were impacted by Cyclone Seroja.”
Unable to physically travel into WA, the council is about to begin one-on-one online consultations with people in the cyclone’s impact zone who need assistance with their claims.
“We’ve got specialised teams [that] travel the country doing this. Unfortunately, the West Australian border restrictions have prevented us from doing [that] this time,” Mr Hall said.
“One of the issues about rebuilding, for many people now, is that when they build back they have to build back better.
“So what might have been a home constructed 40 years ago will need to be reconstructed in a way that will be capable of withstanding cyclones.”
Mr Hall urged people to register for a consultation via the Insurance Council website.