Wednesday, 5 October 2022
Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022: Second Stage
I will be sharing my time with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. I welcome this debate because this Bill is important given the work the PIAB has been doing over the years. As we are all aware, the courts and the Judiciary were overburdened with a massive amount of this type of work and there was need for a more streamlined and sensible solution to secure redress in these types of cases that was more cost-effective for the State, business and individuals. I therefore thank the people in the PIAB for the work they have been doing. We want to make it more user-friendly and attractive so a greater volume of work goes through it. We want the board to be more adequately resourced so it can take on more work and all that will entail.
This Bill will provide for a limited number of new consumer protection provisions for the sector, including a proposed alternative dispute resolution procedure, the publication of quality of service information and compensation for delays in the porting and switching process and missed installation appointments. These are mandatory provisions of the European electronic communications code, EECC. Two further obligations not provided for in the EECC are also proposed to be included, that is, the ability to set minimum quality of service standards that operators must meet and the establishment of a customer charter. The Bill will provide for the necessary amendments to the Communications Regulation Act 2002 to align that Act to the EECC and to ComReg's current functions and powers, including its investigations and the procedural powers. These amendments will include: a broadened information gathering power; the ability to use already gathered information; the ability to better assist the Minister with policy-making; and improvements to the notification, privilege and overcharging provisions.
One thing we cannot let go from this debate is the cost of insurance and what that means to business. As the Minster of State is well aware I already highlighted in this House that all businesses in Kerry recently received a renotification of their rates bill. This is putting pressure on businesses. There are a few things you must do when you are in business and they are that you must pay your bills, you must pay for the energy and the light to keep the door open, you must pay the staff and you must pay your insurance. You cannot operate any business and you cannot function without having proper, adequate insurance cover for yourself, your employees, your buildings, your property, your machinery and whatever else. These are the basic costs that must be handled and addressed.
Due to what I call blackguarding of the system, the cost of insurance had gone up enormously. We had a new event happening whereby insurance companies were settling many cases without even consulting the person who had the policy with them in the first instance.
That has to be wrong. Where someone is paying an insurance company to insure their property, if there is a claim and if the insurance company is negotiating with the person who is making the claim, surely the customer has a right to be kept informed and consulted at all times.
I have no problem whatsoever if a person has injuries and they need compensation to put themselves back to where they should have been. We all know the purpose of insurance. It is to replace the loss, cover for the loss incurred and to put the person back to where they were before the accident or incident. However, we have had situations where people were either extremely unlucky in millions-to-one type of stuff or else there was blackguarding going in the system where members of the same family happened to come upon the same hole on a footpath or the same pothole in a road and happened to fall into it. Talk about hard luck; it was like the Bermuda Triangle. Those types of cases came before the courts and, unfortunately, they were settled by local authorities. All local authorities have been scourged by this type of activity.
That is not for one second to take from the genuine person who would have a genuine accident or incident where they are perfectly entitled to be compensated, but not ten people going out for the purpose of just seeking money. We have had cases of staged car accidents. All these different types of things have happened over the years. We have seen the videos of people inside in shops and miraculously falling down on the ground. It was only coincidence that they might have done the same thing a year or two before. It was like a sideline income. We need to try to protect businesses from that.
We need to give all support we can give to PIAB in the future for the good work that it does in reducing costs because as we all know the legal process is extremely expensive. Anything we can do to keep down that cost at the end of the day is protecting the consumer because somebody has to pay for it. If small businesses cannot pay for the types of bills that I am talking about - electricity bills, rates and insurance - they will close their doors. That local community will then be robbed of that business. The local employment will be gone from the area and it is just bad. I would welcome anything we can do to stop that type of misuse of the insurance industry.
I again plead with the Minister of State to resource PIAB adequately to ensure it can take on more work to do good which is what it has been doing since it was brought into being. I welcome that at that time legislators saw fit to put PIAB in place in the first instance. It has basically done what it said on the tin, but we just need it to do more of it.