Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Motor Insurance Costs
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and thank him for coming to the House today.
I am looking for an update on the report on the cost of motor insurance. Many people, especially the self-employed, have come to my office to tell me about the significant increase in their insurance premiums. I know the Minister of State set up a committee and a working group was drawn together to deal with it. A report published recently showed that some premiums increased by up to 57% between 2011 and 2016. Last year, by shopping around some people had a small decrease in their premium. Insurance premiums are out of control. This is a major issue and I would like the Minister of State to give me an up-to-date report on what is happening.
I thank Senator Byrne for tabling a Commencement matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline the position.
Members of the Seanad will be aware that the report on the cost of motor insurance was published in January 2017. It made 22 recommendations, with 71 associated actions to be carried out. The aim of the implementation of this report is to try to remove the volatility that we have seen with motor premiums in the past number of years, both up and down, and bringing the premiums from the very high levels into line with lower levels.
The report recognises that as there is such a range of factors that influence pricing, including the natural cycle of the market, consequently it is not possible to transform the underlying dynamic overnight. It is worth noting that last month marked the first anniversary of the publication of the report. More than half of the 71 actions had been implemented by the end of 2017. Senators should note that the fourth quarterly update report will be published in the coming days. This will give full details of the implementation of each of the recommendations. The Government approved the general scheme of a Bill to establish a new national claims information database in the Central Bank of Ireland. It has been referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting. This is a key recommendation of the motor insurance report as this database will collect aggregate information linked to claims for private motor business from motor insurers to provide greater transparency on claim trends. I also acknowledge the work of the Personal Injuries Commission, which is chaired by former President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns. The commission delivered its first report in December. Its finding suggest that adopting a standardised, internationally recognised approach to diagnosis, treatment and reporting of soft tissue injuries by practitioners who are appropriately competent and trained will improve the personal injuries environment in Ireland.
The Government remains committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the cost of insurance working group. In this regard, work is continuing on important issues such as the development of an insurance fraud database in the Department of Justice and Equality and an uninsured drivers database in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The report provides us with a very good opportunity to address a range of problems in the sector. The Senator can be assured that I will work with my ministerial colleagues to ensure that the cost of insurance is reduced.
There appears to have been greater stability in the market in recent months. The most recent data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, indicate that private motor insurance premiums have reduced by 16.3% from their peak in July 2016. While the CSO statistics indicate a greater degree of stability overall, these figures represent a broad average and therefore there are many people who are still seeing increases. There is work to be done in this regard. The Senator can be sure that the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the other Departments of Government, along with everybody involved in insurance, are attempting to ensure that the cost is reduced.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. I will just give him a small example. A person in their early 50s came into my office recently whose premium had previously been a little more than €800. This person had received a bill for close to €1,200 despite having a no claims bonus and having never had a crash in 30 odd years of driving. Some of the companies are definitely still abusing the system. They are the ones which need to be looked at. I look forward to the Minister of State returning with a more substantial report once it has been published. Perhaps he will give a commitment to keeping an eye on this issue because it needs to be acknowledged that some of the companies are definitely abusing the system, although some others are working to decrease premiums.
I would like to put it on the record of the House that I have also heard of dozens of such cases. One gentleman came to me whose insurance premium had increased from €700 to over €1,000. He pursued the company and went to a different broker. The broker went to a number of companies and eventually got back to the company this gentleman had been with. He managed to get his insurance for the same price as previously because he used a different broker. There are many anomalies in the motor insurance and it is difficult to put a figure on them. That is the way the insurance companies operate.
It is important for people to recognise a couple of factors. The 57% increase was from a base that was too low. Companies established themselves here and went after market share. There was a price war and price wars never turn out well. The cost of insurance was actually too low. They were not operating from a proper base. Reducing premiums by 16% is a good start, although it is only a start. There are many other recommendations which will eventually be implemented.
On the example the Senator gave, we are asking the insurance companies to explain why insurance premiums have increased. They have to put the reason down on paper and give a proper explanation to each individual as to why the underwriters feel the premium should increase. That is another example of one of the more than 70 recommendations upon which the Government is acting.