Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
At the outset, I acknowledge the issues raised by Deputy O'Donnell regarding the difficulties being experienced by businesses in the leisure sector with respect to the availability of insurance cover. This industry plays a key role, not only from an economic perspective, but more importantly often serves to enrich the quality of life in communities across the country. Accordingly, I do not take the challenges that these companies and groups have experienced with regard to the obtainability and affordability of insurance lightly.
However, the Deputy will know there is no single policy or legislative initiative which the Government can take to persuade insurers to provide cover for a particular industry. Moreover, neither I nor the Minister for Finance can direct a company to do so. Notwithstanding this, we continue to prioritise insurance reform and this work is progressing right across Departments on the timely implementation of all the actions outlined in the Action Plan for Insurance Reform. As the Deputy knows, the first action plan implementation report was published in July, and 34 of the 66 actions contained therein are now completed.
As part of my intensive stakeholder engagement on the reform agenda, I have for my part met with many groups to discuss the difficulties in obtaining insurance. I am aware of the exit of a number of UK leisure insurers from the Irish market in recent years. Furthermore, I also understand that an unstable personal injuries environment was a large factor in those firms making the commercial decision to exit.
The new personal injuries guidelines were a key element of the action plan, which was delivered about six months ahead of schedule. When we came into government the legislation provided that the guidelines would be published by 31 October 2021, but we did it six months ahead of schedule, with the assistance of the Judiciary bringing forward its work. Early data published last week from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board shows, as the Deputy indicated, an average reduction of 40%. This is an encouraging development. It is my hope that this trend will continue and once bedded in will result in lower costs for businesses.
There should be a pound-for-pound reduction in the premiums based on the savings. However, it is important that people recognise that while personal injury claims is the single biggest cost affecting insurance companies, it is only one of the costs. What was covered by the guidelines was the smaller injuries, slips and trips and soft tissue injuries, which only represent a percentage of all personal injury costs. If there is a car accident, there are cars to be repaired and sometimes the personal injury is part of the overall cost of settling a claim. The very serious injuries that require lifelong treatment are not covered by the recent board because nobody would suggest that the costs of caring for a person in the long term should be reduced by the awards. While there are cost savings, our job is now to ensure that they are passed on to customers as quickly as possible. Once that trend gets established, we think it will be important.
The press release from the Alliance for Insurance Reform today acknowledged that there was a reduction of 10% in motor insurance renewal costs. It did say that some sectors have been very badly hit, despite the recent reform. That is especially in the area of high risk such as the leisure and entertainment area, and outdoor activities and pursuits.
The legislation dealing with occupiers' liability and the duty of care is being finalised and will be brought forward very soon. That is a key component and the industry wants to ensure that there is a fair spread of the risk associated with claims.