After seven years with the same insurer, Collette Zimonyi has been told her Gold Coast property is now “embargoed”, leaving her without contents insurance as wet La Niña conditions persist into summer.
- Some Gold Coast residents face difficulties finding insurance ahead of summer storm season
- An insurance broker says flooding risks may undermine the willingness insurers have to cover some areas
- The Insurance Council urges residents to buy cover in advance of natural disaster season
Ms Zimonyi said her insurer did not provide a specific reason last week but that due to the embargo, the contents insurance for her Labrador home could not be renewed.
“I’m not near the wetlands of Labrador and its neighbouring suburbs,” she said.
“[It’s] very, very uncomfortable.”
Ms Zimonyi said when she spoke with other residents, including on social media, they shared similar issues.
“It must of been 50 or 60 people chimed in with the same problem,” she said.
“They did mention flood, most of them, but it was all sorts of insurance agencies not just the one I’m with.”
Ms Zimonyi’s insurer has been contacted for comment.
Nerang-based insurance broker Rolf Van Dulst said insurance companies usually embargoed suburbs if there was “an impending peril”.
“If there’s a cyclone off the coast and it’s looking to make landfall in a particular area, insurance companies will say, ‘Ok we’re not providing new insurance or additional insurance in those areas’,” he said.
But looking specifically at Labrador, Mr Van Dulst said longer-term climate risks may be a bigger factor.
“It’s more likely there’s been a change in the underwriting appetite or the willingness to insure for particular risks in that area due to a change in risk situations, such as climate change or more propensity to flooding,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Australia said embargoes were used “if a high-risk event is imminent”.
“However, most insurers will renew an existing insurance policy in these circumstances,” the spokesperson said.
“Some insurers may sell policies but may not accept a claim against the new policy for a pre-determined period (usually 72 hours but up to seven days).
“Insurers use embargoes when risk is elevated or a disaster is already occurring to restrict people buying insurance and then cancelling cover after the risk passes.”
Legal Aid Queensland’s assistant director of flood response, Paul Holmes, said there was no law “saying insurers have to write or have to give you an insurance policy just because you asked for one”, even if an existing contract was up for renewal.
But he said embargoes were designed to be a temporary measure.
“In February, people were calling in the middle of the floods wanting to take out flood cover and most insurers said at that point, ‘We’re not writing any new policies while this event is happening’,” he said.
“There was an insurer who said, ‘We’re not going to write any new policies in particular towns in western Queensland’ until mitigation measures were undertaken.
“When they were, they started writing those policies again.”
Mr Holmes said an insurer could only cancel a policy mid-way through a contract if the resident had breached its terms.
“The premium that’s not been used, so let’s say it’s cancelled after nine months and there’s three months to go, you should receive those three months back as a refund,” he said.
What to do?
Mr Van Dulst said people who have had their insurance embargoed should shop around for alternative providers.
“It is possible that they find themselves uninsurable or more likely that the cost of insurance is just not economically viable,” he said.
The Insurance Council of Australia spokesperson said residents should plan to renew their coverage well ahead of storm season.
“The easiest way to avoid an embargo is to buy cover in advance of natural disaster season for your location and avoid the policy lapsing at renewal time,” they said.
Ms Zimonyi said she was taking extra precautions as she looked for a new insurer.
“When I went out yesterday, I made sure every power-point was off, I walked around and thought, ‘Hello, this is going to be the day isn’t it — not insured and something happens’,” she said.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast showers for the rest of the week and into early next week, with the chance of thunderstorms.