Driver database at heart of major insurance probe after dawn raids
A database of clients and claims is at the centre of the probe into alleged cartel activity in the insurance industry, the Irish Independent has learned.
Regulators from the European Union led dawn raids on insurance bodies over alleged cartel activity.
Gardaí acted as observers, and officers from the competition watchdog were also involved in the early morning swoops.
The raids were prompted by allegations that motor insurers in this country are operating a cartel by price-fixing.
A cartel is a conspiracy against consumers to keep prices artificially high. A cartel usually means restricting new entrants to a market.
Motor premiums have been going up by as much as 70pc at times over the past three years.
It is understood a database with details about drivers and their claims history was the focus of the raids.
Officers from the European Competition Directorate headed up the operation, with a total of around 45 competition regulators involved.
The main raid was at the Dublin offices of Insurance Ireland, the representative body for the insurance sector.
Some insurance companies were also understood to have been raided, along with software companies that hold insurance industry databases.
A statement from the European Commission said: "The commission has concerns that the companies involved may have engaged in anti-competitive practices in breach of EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position."
Insurance Ireland, which is headed up by Kevin Thompson, said its offices were raided, and it was co-operating with the EU and the Irish competition authorities.
"Insurance Ireland understands that the inspection at its premises relates to databases concerning claims history information and drivers' penalty points," it said in a statement.
The focal point is a database operated by Insurance Ireland, which has been the subject of allegations in the past that new entrants to the market are unable to get access to it.
Known as Insurance Link, it contains the claims history of all drivers. Examining this is the only way to validate a driver's claims history.
Access to the database is essential for any company hoping to sell motor insurance here.
Insurance Ireland and Mr Thompson have consistently denied that it restricts use of the database, and stressed that access to databases is regulated by the Data Protection Commissioner.
Another database, known as the Integrated Information Data Service (IIDS), is operated by the insurance industry and gives access to the Department of Transport. It contains information on penalty points.
There have been claims in the past that members of Insurance Ireland have easier access to this database, something which Insurance Ireland denies.
The raid comes as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is already involved in a probe into alleged cartel activity in insurance.
It initiated the probe at the end of last year, issuing witness summonses and information requests to motor insurers and industry groups.
The investigation relates to industry participants allegedly signalling premium increases.
The raiding of offices is a major step-up in the investigation.
The European Competition Directorate aims to ensure the single market for insurance operates without hindrance.