Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is very welcome to the House, and I thank him for taking time out to come. The reason I have him here concerns insurance costs. Unfortunately, this is still a serious issue for a great many people. I know some work has been done about it but clearly more needs to be done. As I am sure the Minister of State will be aware, insurance costs bring serious financial pressures to bear on people, be it the cost of insuring one's motor vehicle or costs incurred by those who are in business, such as public liability or employers' liability, or indeed charitable organisations, community groups, football clubs or whatever else. Unfortunately, all are negatively affected by the ever-increasing, spiralling cost of insurance premiums.
Looking first at the motor insurance industry, I note that between 2015 and 2017 premiums shot up by over 70%. I acknowledge that things have got a little better in this regard, but clearly more needs to be done for anyone trying to insure a motor vehicles. One of the reasons we could point to as to why these premiums are so high is that the payouts for personal injuries here are sky-high compared with those of other countries. I think our payouts are on average almost 4.5 times higher than equivalent claim payouts in the UK. Unfortunately, I read recently that we now have a reputation as being the whiplash capital of Europe. Whiplash accounts for almost 80% of all motor insurance claims here, compared with France, for example, where the figure is just 3%. The average whiplash award in Ireland is €15,000. This is five times the awards in Italy and Spain and three times the awards in the UK. Clearly this is an area that needs to be tackled in order that motor premiums are reduced.
The other issue concerns business and the ever-rising costs of premiums, be it public liability or employers' liability. I spoke this morning with a small business owner in County Monaghan who has 12 employees. He told me that his employers' liability and public liability premiums in 2017 amounted to €9,800. As of last year, this has now increased to €11,600. Nothing has really changed in the interim, there have been no claims, and his broker advised him this week that the premiums will more than likely increase again. This puts added pressure on businesses that are getting it tight at present, and clearly more needs to be done.
I read recently in one of the national newspapers that a business owner who runs a play centre for children, which is quite common throughout the country, has seen the premium go from €2,500 up to €16,000 over the past five years. Clearly, this is crippling and has a serious impact on the viability of the business and, by extension, the jobs that depend on it. No doubt the Minister of State will mention the fact that a group was set up to look at this entire area and it has done some work on this and made many recommendations as to what it feels should happen. Unfortunately, it is my understanding that very few of those recommendations have been acted upon to date, which is disappointing.
One of the recommendations was an anti-fraud unit. There is nothing more frustrating for people than to see people setting out purposefully with a fraudulent claim, the result of which will be that people will pay more for their insurance premiums. We need a dedicated insurance fraud unit headed by the Garda to investigate people involved in such activities.
Yes, some work has been done, but clearly a lot more needs to be done. I would like to see Government tackle this issue with more vigour and more enthusiasm because we have a serious problem here with the ever-increasing costs of premiums. When one adds Brexit to the mix, the issue clearly needs to be tackled with more urgency.
I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this very important matter and for the work he has put into this and the research he has carried out.I encourage the Senator to carry on with this particular work and interest because it is hugely important, as he said.
The Senator has provided me with an opportunity to update the House on the progress being made on the recommendations contained in the cost of insurance working group's reports on the cost of motor insurance and of employer and public liability insurance. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has responsibility for this matter sends his apologies. He is very aware of the financial strain the cost of insurance is placing on consumers and businesses, and on some sectors in particular, as the Senator has outlined.
Members of the Seanad are aware that the report on the cost of motor insurance was published in January 2017 and made 33 recommendations. The report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance was subsequently published in January 2018 and made 15 recommendations. Both sets of recommendations are detailed in action plans with agreed timelines for implementation. The working group prepares progress updates detailing implementation progress on a quarterly basis. The seventh such update was published last November and shows that of the total number of 78 separate relevant deadlines in the action plans for the two reports to the end of the third quarter of 2018, 63 relate to actions that have been completed. It is envisaged that the next update will be completed by the end of this month and will concentrate in particular on outlining the definitive position on all 33 recommendations of the motor insurance report, as the last of the deadlines in its action plan passed at the end of 2018.
In respect of the employer and public liability report, the vast majority of the total of 26 action points, which were due for completion during 2018, have been done. The Minister of State is confident that any outstanding action point will be completed in the coming months, along with the three remaining action points with deadlines set for various quarters of 2019.
The upcoming progress update will include an additional section providing the up-to-date status of relevant recommendations from the two reports issued by the Personal Injuries Commission. In terms of the recommendations it is hoped will be implemented over the next six months, the key actions include the passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018; the Law Reform Commission to commence formally its examination of the possibility of capping levels of damages for personal injury actions, an action to which the Senator alluded; the national claims information database to be fully functioning following the recent commencement of the relevant Act; progress on the proposal to establish an improved insurance fraud investigative capacity in the Garda national economic crime bureau and further fruitful co-operation between the insurance industry and gardaí - the Senator was spot on to highlight this issue; publication of a key information report on employer and public liability insurance claims; and progress on delivering interim guidelines relating to appropriate general damages award levels for the prioritised soft tissue and whiplash injury category, to which the Senator also made reference.
The Minister of State assures the Senator that he and the working group will continue to focus on implementing all proposed measures in order to improve the insurance market for businesses and consumers alike. The Minister of State will continue to work with his ministerial colleagues to ensure the various recommendations are implemented. He is hopeful that the cumulative effects of the completion of the recommendations of the two reports will include increased stability in the pricing of insurance for consumers and businesses and provide for a more competitive insurance market.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. As I acknowledged, some good work is being done in this very important area. My main motivation in raising this matter is to acknowledge the work that has been done and to impress upon the Minister of State and the Government the urgency attached to this issue. We need to expedite all actions to ensure a consumer, be it a young person insuring a motor vehicle or a business owner or football club paying an insurance premium, will see progress by way of a reduced premium. It is only then that we will be able to say the work that has been done, including the work that remains to be done, has been successful.
I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this matter and for the opportunity he has given me to update the House on it. I support the Senator in his work in continuing to highlight this matter because it is important. I agree with him on this. Tackling the cost of insurance requires a co-ordinated effort throughout the Government, State bodies, business and industry. The Departments of Finance, Justice and Equality, Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Transport, Tourism and Sport all have major roles to play, as do the Central Bank and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. In addition, industry's input to the process is pivotal, particularly with regard to the provision of data and improving customer experience. Ultimately, one of the key indicators of the success of the recommendations in the reports on motor insurance and on employer and public liability insurance will be a greater level of consistency in award levels. This should, in turn, result in an increase in the number of Personal Injury Assessment Board cases being accepted by claimants as the need to litigate diminishes. I am sure the Senator will agree with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, that getting to this destination is highly desirable.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for this time. The House can rest assured the Government is doing everything in its power to push the issue of the cost of insurance along very quickly. The support of the Seanad in this matter is really appreciated.