AAMI denies home insurance claim after couple fails to disclose they sell eggs at their door

Justin Uebergang and Verity Metcalfe spend most days cooped up in a two-bedroom unit with their three young daughters, and another due in September, each struggling for an occasional bit of peace and quiet.

To escape each other, they walk around their farm property, feed the chickens and play with their five white Maremma sheepdogs.

Nine months have passed since Mr. Uebergang found his house engulfed in flames caused by an electrical fault.

“All of our photos, all of our clothes, things that can’t be replaced, books that I got from my grandmother that I was going to pass on to my daughters, it’s all gone,” his partner, Mrs Metcalfe, said.

Fortunately, the family stayed in the unit, which was to be an Airbnb, overnight while their home was being renovated.

Mr. Uebergang paid more than $2,000 a year for five years for home and contents insurance with Suncorp’s AAMI, but when he applied for a payment, he was denied because he had not disclosed a business he ran on the property.

It was a farm gate stall at the end of the driveway that sold free range eggs using an honesty box.

Justin drops a bucket of feed on the ground to feed the chickens scurrying around his feet on a sunny, blue-sky day.
The couple no longer operate the farm gate business because they can’t afford it.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

A letter from AAMI said the claim could not be accepted “because we would not have insured your client if he had told us he was running a business from the property. When a policy is started with us, questions are required to be answered honestly.” . .

The couple didn’t think they had to disclose the business because it wasn’t operated out of the home they were insuring.

The hens that laid the eggs were housed in a shed a few hundred yards from his house and the eggs were sold from a shed at the end of the driveway.

“They came back to us and said: You answered that incorrectly, you should have said you operate a business from home,” Uebergang said.

In a statement, AAMI said there was a standard set of questions people must answer when shopping for home insurance online.

Justin and Verity stand in the ruins of their house looking at a burnt photo album on a sunny day.
The family lost almost everything they owned in the fire.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

A spokesman for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) said that when taking out insurance, consumers should take reasonable care not to make false statements.

They said what constituted “reasonable care” would differ from party to party, and not making a misrepresentation could be affected by the type of questions asked by the insurer, how clearly the insurer informed the consumer of the duty, and any particular characteristic of the consumer of which the insurer was, or should have been, aware.

The crushed remains of a house that caught fire last year on a blue sky day.
The fire was caused by an electrical fault.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

Lawyer Says AAMI ‘Ignores Important Consumer Protections’

The family has spent their remaining savings replacing what was lost in the fire and is borrowing money from friends and family to prepare for the birth of their next child.

Seeing no other way out and facing the prospect of selling their farm to stay afloat, they decided to take AAMI to court.

Hayriye Uluca, lead attorney for Maurice Blackburn, said AAMI’s denial was “not surprising.”

Justin crouches in the rubble of where his house once stood to see the remains.
The children of Justin Uebergang and Verity Metcalfe fear the family will end up homeless. (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

“It’s disappointing. The insurer is ignoring the important consumer protections that exist to prevent these irrelevant factors from being relied upon to deny the claim,” said Ms. Uluca.

“We had a royal commission on this kind of behavior and it’s really disappointing to see that continue.”

Ms. Uluca said “no part of the hobby egg farm business caused or contributed to the fire” and she was concerned that other homeowners insurance holders could be similarly trapped if a natural disaster hits their property.

Verity and Justin lean back on the kitchen bench surrounded by documents, staring at the camera.
Justin Uebergang and Verity Metcalfe say the stress of trying to make a claim on their home insurance has been “traumatic.”(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

“It’s similar to if you set up a lemonade stand for your kids outside your home – if that is viewed in the insurer’s perspective as a business and you don’t disclose and you continue to make a home and contents claim, that insurer may to … not pay you after a fire, a flood or a storm,” he said.

“We think that is completely unacceptable.”

The couple’s message to AAMI is clear.

“Why are you doing this to us?” Uluca asked.

“How could you put us through this just to make your end result look better?

Aware , updated

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