Not since Maitland’s infamous flood of 1955 had the Lower Hunter experienced the wrath of Mother Nature in as much force as it did on April 21, 2015.
The NSW government declared the super storm, as it came to be known, a natural disaster in the days after more than 400mm of rain smashed the region.
Many properties suffered damage and it wasn’t long before there were rumblings of discontent from those who found that getting what they were entitled to from their insurance company was easier said than done. Perhaps the most extreme example is the story of Lochinvar family the Healds whose home was ruined during the storm.
Bernie Heald told the financial services royal commission on Thursday about the struggle her family had with insurance provider Suncorp over almost three years.
After an initial offer of about $30,000, the company was ultimately forced by the Financial Ombudsman Service to pay the Healds more than 20 times that amount.
But Suncorp dragged the chain at every turn, the royal commission heard.
It took almost two years for Suncorp to agree to pay for alternative accommodation for Bernie, her husband Bruce and their children Logan and Aleena – who both suffer from ongoing health problems.
Until then, they lived with bricks breaking and the floor cracking, in fear that their house would collapse around them.
Like many families, they couldn’t simply afford to abandon their home and pay rent on top of a mortgage and they had no local family to turn to. But Suncorp left them in a house that was ultimately demolished because it was so badly damaged.
The firm’s insurance chief executive Gary Dransfield apologised to the Heald family in front of the royal commission on Thursday.
However, given Ms Heald’s evidence, you could argue he had little choice but to do so.
People pay insurance in good faith that when they need help, they will get it in a timely manner without undue stress. Stories of people having difficulties claiming what they are entitled to are too common. Insurance companies like Suncorp mould their public image around being the place to turn when trouble strikes – we’ve all seen the ads.
The Healds’ account shows the difference between fact and fiction and is a powerful reminder of why this royal commission was started in the first place.
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