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Payment woes for plumbers following Christchurch quake

Wednesday, 9th March, 2011

Payment woes for plumbers following Christchurch quake

The Master Plumbers industry body says many of its Christchurch members are struggling to keep their businesses solvent as they work round the clock to restore drinking water supplies and sanitation systems in the city.

Master Plumbers, Gasfitters & Drainlayers says its members are committed to helping the city recover as fast as possible but many have cash flow problems that are limiting their ability to pay their staff and order materials needed to complete repairs.

Mark Whitehead, Chairman of Master Plumbers and a Christchurch business owner, says the problem is caused by the Earthquake Commission’s (EQC) system for paying out on claims for plumbing and gas repairs.

EQC pays householders direct, leaving it up to individuals to settle the bill with tradesmen they have used.

Mr Whitehead says many practitioners have not been paid for work carried out after the September earthquake and know they face further long delays in getting paid for the repairs they are currently completing.

“Many people aren’t earning at the moment and, even if they do make paying their plumber a priority, it might be many weeks before they get money from EQC.

“Plumbers are doing their best to provide front line support to the people of Christchurch but their businesses need to be viable to ensure they can continue offering a much needed service.”

Mr Whitehead says there is festering discontent in Christchurch about payment for earthquake-related water and sanitation work and he is calling on the EQC to start paying plumbers directly.

“EQC would retain control over how funds are distributed. An assessor could review all the invoices sent in by practitioners and red flag any that seem excessive. The EQC has plenty of experience in what is fair market pricing after the September quake.”

He says direct payment to plumbers would take pressure off Christchurch householders and the city’s tradesmen, many of whom run small businesses.

Master Plumbers also wants a change to the EQC requirement that a quote be sourced for any work estimated to cost over $2,000.

Mr Whitehead says the threshold is too low.

“It may have been realistic in September but prices have gone up since then.

“Getting quotes is also stressful and time consuming for home owners, who suffer delays in getting their water cylinder replaced, and for practitioners, who have to make multiple trips on damaged roads before they can order stock and do the work.”

Master Plumbers is proposing a new threshold of $4,000, which is roughly the cost of a water cylinder and associated pipe work. They would also like to see a clear, consistent message from EQC.

“We would like to see EQC deliver a clear claims process that can be easily understood by all parties. We want to be sure that everyone involved understands how to claim and who is responsible for paying.”

Master Plumbers, Gasfitters & Drainlayers represents more than 5,000 licensed practitioners around New Zealand and has 66 member companies in Christchurch.


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