2022 floods: Suncorp apologies to flood victims over ‘living hell’

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A top insurance executive has declared he was “embarrassed” over his company’s failures to support traumatised flood victims during one of the worst natural disasters in Australian history.

Suncorp chief executive Steve Johnston was grilled by federal MPs during a federal probe into the 2022 floods on Monday.

The disaster killed 24 people and displaced about 85,000 as record-breaking rainfall inundated large parts of South East Queensland and NSW.

Mt Johnston said up to 1373 insurance claims filed in the wake of the disaster had yet to be resolved as of February 2024.

“We’re closing about 80 a week at the moment,” he said.

“This is good progress and we expect to have that number down by the end of this financial year.”

Federal MP Andrew Gee teed off at the major insurer after it was revealed the group had raked in $1.bn in earnings over the past financial year.

“I noticed the words at the beginning of the evidence you’ve given about how you didn’t always get it right … I just wonder if you and other insurers have any appreciation of the living hell which many of your policy holders and customers went through during these national disasters?” Mr Gee asked.

Mr Johnston said he had visited flood-affected communities to witness the trauma people endured.

“I’ve sat down with them and I’m very disappointed to say in those first early instances it’s like they are preparing to go into a battle. They are getting ready for a fight. I do see them. I’ve met many customers and it’s a very painful experience.”

Mr Gee went on to cite evidence given by a couple forced to live in a caravan after their home was destroyed by floodwater in 2022. He said over the past two years the pair had faced a “litany of delays”, including having rounds of incorrect assessments and being ghosted by third party assessors.

“They’re customers of yours … why did it have it take constituents making videos about their experiences for all the world to see for you to take action and move and progress on that claim? Why does it have to be so hard?” Mr Gee pressed.

“I’m embarrassed,” Mr Johnston answered.

Testimonies came after advocates told hearings last week that traumatised flood survivors reported being “gaslit” and “ghosted” by their insurers in the wake of the disaster, with some exposed to bullying from property assessors and lengthy delays on claim disputes.

ASIC officials told a hearing on Friday it put Australia’s entire insurance industry on notice over failures to communicate with vulnerable clients and properly resolve claims.

Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Andrew Hall told the public hearing on Monday that insurers were committed to major changes and said the industry fully recognised its failures to support flood victims.

“We apologise on behalf of the industry to those customers we let down,” he said.