The ombudsman who handles disputes for the insurance industry has received its highest number of complaints in 20 years.

An annual report by the Insurance and Financial Services Scheme shows 314 complaints in the year to June 30, up from 272 in the previous year and enquiries also rose from 3193 to 3227.

Insurance and financial services ombudsman Karen Stevens said there appeared to be no particular reason for the rise.

"It is really just business as usual."


But she said the increase could indicate people are more aware of their ability to complain to the scheme.

House insurance issues were the biggest area of complaints. More than one in four (27 per cent) related to that type of insurance. Vehicle insurance was the most common area for enquiries (28 per cent).

But Stevens said the low number of complaints about financial advisers was surprising.

Just 10 complaints related to advisers, up from eight the previous year.

Stevens said given the law changed in 2010 to make it compulsory for advisers to belong to a dispute resolution scheme she would have expected to see more coming through.

She urged anyone unhappy with how a complaint had been handled by their adviser to use the free dispute resolution service.

Stevens said it was hard to know if complaint numbers would continue rise.

"They see-saw. Simply because there has been an increase this year doesn't mean there will be an increase in the next year."

But a large number of natural disasters, including last November's Kaikoura quakes and a number of storms that badly hit the Auckland, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty this year, could keep it busy.

Complaints can take a while to get to the ombudsman because consumers must complain to their insurer first before lodging a complaint with the scheme if they are unhappy with how the insurer has handled their concerns.

Stevens said the scheme was still handling complex complaints stemming from the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

"Since 2010, we have resolved 198 Canterbury-earthquake complaints and responded to 2060 complaint enquiries."

"We continue to be involved with more complex Canterbury complaints."

It had also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Earthquake Commission to handle complaints relating to the Kaikoura quakes.

Stevens said there was an ongoing need to improve consumer understanding of insurance policies.

"Over the 22 years we have been resolving complaints, we've heard from thousands of consumers who simply did not know what they were signing up to."

"Many complaints could have been avoided if, for example, people read and understood their insurance policies or their loan or credit contracts," she said.