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Back up financial support for AMI policyholders

Back up financial support for AMI policyholders

The Government has announced it will provide a back up financial support package for AMI Insurance to give policyholders certainty and to ensure an orderly rebuild of Christchurch in the aftermath of the two earthquakes.

The support package would be called on only as a last resort if AMI's own reserves have been exhausted - unless the Crown believes it is in the public interest to take control sooner, Finance Minister Bill English said today.

"This support package will give AMI the time to seek a market solution to the challenges it faces as a result of the two Canterbury earthquakes," he says.

If the package is called on, it would involve the Government investing up to $500 million of equity in AMI, with the right to take ownership and assume control of the company if it needs to.

Christchurch-based AMI Insurance is New Zealand's second-largest residential insurer with 485,000 policyholders and 1.2 million policies across the country.

In Christchurch alone it has more than 85,000 policyholders with 225,000 policies - or about 35 per cent of the residential insurance market in the city.

"The Government has made it clear that helping to rebuild Christchurch is one of its most important priorities," Mr English says.

"That is what today's announcement is about: providing certainty for AMI's tens of thousands of policyholders in the aftermath of the two earthquakes and ensuring the rebuilding of Christchurch and the insurance claims process proceeds in an orderly manner.

"AMI approached the Government on 9 March, concerned that its reserves and reinsurance might not be sufficient to cover the total value of claims resulting from the Canterbury earthquakes," Mr English says.

"Since then, officials have been working closely with the company to gather information about what are complex issues and to consider the best option for taxpayers and AMI's policyholders.

"It was the Government's judgement that a support package was necessary to give certainty to policyholders that their claims will be covered. This applies to all AMI policyholders - not just those in Christchurch.

"Because of uncertainty around the cost of earthquake damage, it is too early to tell whether AMI will have sufficient resources to cover all of these claims. The full extent of the claims AMI faces will remain unclear for several months.

"Ministers have decided to act now. This provides a financial backstop for policyholders so the rebuilding of Christchurch is not jeopardised by potential solvency or liquidity issues and so confidence is maintained in the insurance sector.

"AMI has confirmed it will seek an alternative commercial arrangement to replace the Government's support facility as soon as possible. The Government's actions give the company time to do that.

"The alternative of doing nothing would likely have been severe, potentially leaving many thousands of AMI policyholders without the insurance cover and financial resources needed to rebuild.

"It would also have led to long delays in processing claims, other claims being only partially met and many of AMI's customers in Christchurch not having insurance cover for future risks.

"With AMI having about 35 per cent of the residential insurance market in Christchurch, a significant proportion of residential repairs and rebuilding in the city will be funded by insurance payments to AMI customers.

"This is an unusual situation requiring a special response.

"In considering options, the Government has been acutely aware of the need to protect the interests of taxpayers, who are already facing significant costs from the Canterbury earthquakes and finance company collapses.

"If Government financial assistance is needed, the Government will take every possible step to minimise the cost to taxpayers," Mr English says.

"Events such as this show the importance of getting the Government's finances back into good shape as soon as possible. The Government remains committed to returning to budget surpluses and this arrangement doesn't alter that commitment."

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