Yellowknife homeowners overcharged for insurance but can't get their money back

Some Yellowknifers say that for years they were overcharged for home insurance and that their insurance company, though it acknowledges the mistake, will only refund a fraction of the amount they were overcharged. 

In March 2018, Tawna Brown was surprised to see in a policy renewal notice from The Co-operators that the cost of her home insurance had increased by about $400.

She started asking questions.

Brown says she was initially told the increase was related to forest fires in Fort McMurray and a house fire that had happened in her neighbourhood.

"That didn't make sense to me, so I kept asking questions," said Brown.

Eventually, she spoke to a Co-operators official outside Yellowknife who said the only way to ensure the numbers in the policy are accurate is to re-do a questionnaire the company uses to set the rates each of its customers is charged.

'My house has been overvalued'

"It was through that questionnaire that we discovered — both him and I — that my house had been overvalued by more than $200,000," said Brown.

It was overvalued because it was listed as a stick-built detached home rather than a mobile home. The premium was more than $900 higher than it should have been.

Brown has asked for a copy of the questionnaire she initially filled out when she got the policy, but says The Co-operators has not provided it.

The official who took Brown through the questionnaire suggested she take the information to a Co-operators district manager. Brown says it took numerous phone calls and emails over nine months, and eventually a complaint to the company's ombudsman, to get a response from the district manager.

"All he could say about what it was attributed to was some new tools — some new tools they are using now to more accurately calculate the value of a home," said Brown. "All he was able to offer me, if that's what you want to call it, is a refund of the overpayment for 2017-18, so only one year."

Limited insurance options for mobile homes

Brown said people living in mobile homes have very limited choices for home insurance. During her troubles with The Co-operators, she called another local insurance company twice to find out what they had to offer, but never got a call back.

"At that time I was just drained, so I just let it go," she said.

Another Yellowknifer said he has fought the same battle with The Co-operators. Randy O'Keefe said he discovered his mobile home was listed as a detached stick-built home during a policy renewal five years ago. He had been overpaying his home insurance for decades.

 "All he was able to offer me ... is a refund of the overpayment for 2017-18, so only one year." - Tawna Brown, Yellowknife resident

O'Keefe said staff at the local office were not helpful. He eventually got a refund of just over $4,000. He said that, since then, his premiums have increased and the deductible for his home has gone from $500 to $5,000.

CBC News requested an interview with The Co-operators about overcharging people in mobile homes for home insurance. No one was available.

In an emailed response, a company communications official said: "The Co-operators has a very long and proud history of serving our clients in Yellowknife.  It's important to note that the market there has fluctuated over the years which can affect how a dwelling may have been rated."

The official said customers who have questions about their policy or feel they are being overcharged can contact their local office or the company's ombudsman, or request that the Service Review Panel composed of clients consider their concerns.

All insurance offices, agents and brokers operating in the Northwest Territories must be licenced by the territorial government's Superintendent of Insurance, who is also responsible for enforcing the law governing the industry. CBC News attempted to reach the superintendent through email messages and voicemails, but received no response.