The company which insures most of New Zealand's churches has today announced that it will no longer provide them with earthquake cover.

Since the September quake, Ansvar New Zealand has handled $700 million of earthquake-related claims - receiving only $35million in premiums during the same period.

The international credit-rating agency AM Best has downgraded its assessment of the niche insurer's financial strength from A- to B++.

On the back of this downgrade, Ansvar New Zealand has announced that it will write no new earthquake cover - with immediate effect - and will only renew earthquake insurance until December 1 this year.

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Ansvar is owned by The Ecclesiastical Group which was set up by the Church of England in 1896 and is still the main insurer of British churches.

Michael Tripp, chief executive of The Ecclesiastical Group, said the Canterbury quakes "have produced the Group's biggest ever series of losses.''

"Although we are well protected by our reinsurance programmes, we have nevertheless experienced gross claims ... of over 250 million pounds sterling,'' said Tripp.

"We have therefore taken the decision to cease writing any new business from our Ansvar subsidiary in New Zealand.''

Chair of the Anglican Insurance Board Don Baskerville says this means Anglican churches throughout the country have been given six month's notice, because their policies are renegotiated and renewed, en masse, by the AIB in April next year.

Baskerville said Ansvar's decision to pull out of the earthquake cover market as "disappointing - but not surprising.''

- HERALD ONLINE