Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Business Insurance: Motion [Private Members]
Jan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
I commend Deputy McGrath on bringing this motion before the House. Previous speakers have criticised the insurance companies and described the huge profits they are making, and I agree with them. However, we have to control what those companies do. In any other area of public life, action is taken if something is being done that is contrary to the common good.
What we need to do is not just criticise them but take the actions that are necessary to control what they do. A number of those actions are listed in the motion but we need the Minister of State to progress the Bill in the Seanad as soon as possible. I heard him state on a radio programme some weeks ago that he could not move forward his Bill because of the other legislation that is the subject of a filibuster in the Upper House, although the Senators involved would not state that they are filibustering. In any event, it has been held up in the Seanad for a long time. There are many Bills from the Department of Justice and Equality waiting to be dealt with so I do not understand why it has to be sequential. The Minister of State has acknowledged that he can reintroduce his Bill without necessarily waiting for the conclusion of the Bill proposed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We need to see that Bill. I accept it is not specifically the Minister of State's Bill; it is in the Department of Justice and Equality. I have never understood why both Bills could not be taken at the same time. There are Ministers of State in the Department of Justice and Equality who could progress one Bill while the debate on the other is ongoing. I have never understood that argument for the delay in bringing forward the legislation in the Seanad. I welcome the clarity the Minister of State has provided. We will all be watching the timetable to ensure that it is complied with because this is one of the important measures that is required.
The other area on which I wish to focus is insurance fraud and the database relating to the latter and referred to in the motion. In particular, I support the section of the motion that calls on the Government "legally oblige insurance companies to notify policyholders of claims made against them as claims are made, to inform policyholders of the amount a claim was settled for and the reasons why the claim was settled, and to provide a breakdown of the premium". Transparency is one of the big issues in this regard. One of the major frustrations for businesses, those with motor insurance or whatever is that they are not told what is going on. As a result, there is great frustration and a major cost to businesses. Retailers estimate that for every €1 allocated in respect of an insurance claim, the business has to make €100 in sales in order to recoup it. This is causing businesses to close down.
I am particularly concerned about play centres, parades and all the other areas affected. I am aware of play centres in my constituency that have invested large amounts of money in equipment. Families get a great deal of pleasure from going to those centres, especially with the weather we have in Ireland. The idea that all that investment is put in to these centres, which are a positive experience for families, but they have to close down because of insurance costs is something over which we cannot stand. We have to take action. It is not just those centres that are affected. Many other kinds of businesses are affected also but that is one about which I feel particularly strongly.
I refer to the Civil Liability and Courts Act of 2004 and the issue of fraudulent claims. Sections 22 and 26 of the Act permit a court to refer the determination that the claim is fraudulent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. I do not believe that happens very often but I understand from my legal friend, Deputy Penrose, that it is in the legislation. The Minister might want to clarify that. In any event, there has to be a way in which fraudulent claims can be challenged because we hear of more and more being made.
I am a member of the cross-party retail support group, as are a number of other Members, and we have heard from businesses about the extraordinary activities of people who make fraudulent claims. A couple of them will get together, one will distract and another will pretend to fall over or whatever. It is a common practice. It is pushing up the cost of premiums and , therefore, hurting ordinary people who are trying to run businesses. In terms of the difficulty of running small businesses, one of the big costs is that relating to insurance.
Deputy Buckley referred to flooding. I, too, know many people in my constituency who cannot get home insurance because of threats of flooding, even where mitigation measures are either in place or about to be put in place. They are still being told that they cannot get house insurance, which has very serious implications for those families. I realise that is not specifically what we are discussing today but it is certainly related.
I support the motion. I hope the Minister of State will be able to progress various things. I refer, for example, to all of the recommendations of the cost of insurance working group and the actions of the Personal Injuries Commission. All of these need to be implemented. In some ways, it is very easy to criticise the insurance companies - and we rightly criticise them- but, as legislators. we need to do something about it and ensure they cannot do what they are currently doing.
I want to make one other point which will probably be considered irrelevant. I am the only female who has participated in this debate so far. There is a debate following this one on period poverty and I hope at least some of the men in the Chamber will stay to participate.