From coronavirus to bushfires: Thousands of hail damage insurance claims still outstanding in Canberra

It has been a little over three months since January’s massive hail storm swept through Canberra.

Although it only lasted 10 minutes, the hail storm left more than 3,000 homes without power, caused $1.4 billion in damage, and prompted 34,000 insurance claims.

But despite the National Insurance Council declaring the storm a “catastrophe” to expedite these claims, insurers estimate they are, at best, a third to halfway through processing them.

That means there are somewhere between 17,000 to 23,000 claims still outstanding.

It is news that brings little comfort to Canberrans like Zahraa Al-Attar, who is still waiting for repairs to be done on the home she shares with her infant son Zakaria.

A woman and child in their hail storm damaged home in Canberra.
Ms Al-Attar still finds the situation she is in upsetting.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

Ms Al-Attar’s insurer would only commit to painting repairs inside her home, so she had to find her own roofer.

These works were expected to be completed in February, but were then pushed to March.

Come April, the roofer told her the delivery of the materials needed to complete the repairs had been delayed because of coronavirus.

For Ms Al-Attar, this week’s heavy rain across the territory brings memories of the hail storm back.

“The baby was crying and there was water leaking in this area, water leaking in the other area,” she recalled.

“I don’t know what to do, where to start, basically. So, it’s very stressful.

Bushfires and coronavirus impact repair schedule

Blue tarp pinned over a roof.
The Insurance Council of Australia says only a half to a third of insurance claims have been resolved for roof damage in January’s hail storm.(ABC News)

The head of communications at the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), Campbell Fuller, confirmed that, “depending on the insurer, one-third to one-half of the claims have already been resolved, and insurers are pouring their resources into these areas”.

But the insurers are having the same problems as Ms Al-Attar — the summer’s bushfires prompted a lack of roofing crews and material shortages, which have been worsened by coronavirus restrictions.

Master Builders ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins suggested the building industry was “not sized and geared up to deal with a massive number of repair jobs in such a short period of time”.

“The construction industry has been impacted by a series of events already this year: the bushfires, the hail storms, and now the coronavirus,” Mr Hopkins said.

“We would ask consumers to be patient and to continue to work with their insurance company to get those repairs made as quickly as possible.”

Mr Hopkins acknowledged that, in some cases, it would “take a little while longer to get these jobs fixed — but in time, they will be”.

“We would encourage the insurance companies to make sure they’re getting this repair work done as quickly as possible so that homeowners don’t have to suffer through a cold winter, still waiting for roof repairs,” he said.

Large hailstone lie in the foreground with parliament in the background.
The hailstones coated the lawn of Parliament House.(ABC News: David Foote)

Workers from interstate unable to travel

Master Builders ACT said they were aware that “there were some companies looking to be brought in from outside of Canberra” to speed up repairs.

“At the moment, because of coronavirus travel restrictions, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, for companies to come from interstate into Canberra to do repair work,” Mr Hopkins said.

“So our advice to consumers would be to make sure they’re utilising local builders and local tradies.

Mr Fuller said the ICA knew the situation was not ideal.

“We accept we are moving into winter and concerns of householders are naturally being heard by insurers,” he said.

He said some some residents may be eligible for alternative accommodation if they talk to their insurer.

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