Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Quake - a year on: Family forced into charity by late bill

Julie and Dennis Jeffries with sons Jake (13) and Jesse (10) front. A late payment left their house uninsured. Photo / Simon Baker
Julie and Dennis Jeffries with sons Jake (13) and Jesse (10) front. A late payment left their house uninsured. Photo / Simon Baker

One late insurance bill has thrust the Jeffries family of St Albans into the arms of charity since the first big Christchurch earthquake in September 2010.

Dennis Jeffries, 56, his wife Julie, 54, paid their house insurance on time for 30 years after buying their home in 1979.

They raised their sons Jake, now 13, and Jesse, 10, in the house. They finally paid off their mortgage.

But in the last three or four years, Mr Jeffries developed multiple sclerosis and had to go on an invalid's benefit, and the household budget became tight.

"In July or August [2010] we got offered insulation," Mrs Jeffries said. A local firm knocked at the door and offered to install it using the new Government subsidy.

"Being in an old villa, we went with that, but it left us a little bit short. I borrowed the money off my brother and then paid him off," she said.

"So in August when the insurance was going to be due, the woman rang from the insurance on the Wednesday and said, 'Do you realise your insurance finishes on Friday?' I said, 'This time we are running late, we won't be able to pay till the following Tuesday.'

"On the Saturday we had the earthquake. There was no way they would accept the money on the Tuesday. So we were uninsured."

The quake shook their chimneys loose. Every aftershock loosened more bricks, so they had to take both chimneys down, patching up the holes in the walls with "bits and pieces".

The house survived the February 22 quake, but mud squirted out of the ground around it. There was more mud on June 13, and again two days before Christmas.

But the community swung in to help. A few weeks after February 22 there was a knock at the door.

"A lady across the road noticed we had children, so the Salvation Army knocked at our door and said, do we need food. And that particular day we did," Mrs Jeffries said.

"We had a chap come round with a bulldozer who was doing something down the road. He scooped up all the liquefaction."

The Red Cross gave them a $1000 hardship grant, and then in winter a further $400 towards the power bill.

"We have also had help from a church group, and friends and family pitched in financially. And just recently they [Red Cross] came to us and said they can give us a hand with our foundations, which are broken, and Habitat for Humanity are going to come and fix it," Mrs Jeffries said.

The family hope to be insured again once the foundations of their house are fixed. But it will be costly.

"The premiums have skyrocketed," Mrs Jeffries said.

"Whether we can afford the premium or not remains to be seen."

- NZ Herald

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