Thursday 27 November 2014

Comment: Scrambling for cover as storm erupts

Published 18/03/2014 | 02:30

THE old and perhaps unfair caricature of insurance companies as people who provide umbrellas only for fine days does come to mind.

But after the worst ever winter since records were first kept, we know that flood and storm insurance are going to become one of the big issues of our time.

A trade estimate of 50,000 houses being denied flood cover dates from March 2013 and suggests that up to a quarter of a million people are affected. Those numbers can only have increased in the intervening 12 months. And it's worth keeping in mind that these are people prepared to pay their own way and rely on their own efforts to resolve their own problems.

There are two interlinked issues bugging the Environment Minister Phil Hogan right now.

First is the difficulty so many people have getting flood cover. Second is the slowness of negotiations on reclassifying flood risk places where tens of millions have already been spent on flood defences.

Others, such as long-time crusader on this issue Labour TD Kevin Humphreys, are extremely critical of the more general catch-all assessment of flood risks.

He argues that the insurance industry's system of geo-coding is in some cases wildly inaccurate and penalises people living in places which have no real history of flooding.

Those involved in insurance say the reality of the market dictates that they must assess risk prudently when offering insurance. Ultimately, any weaknesses in risk assessment are only going to cost all buyers of insurance services more.

Insurance Ireland will point to their expected €46m payout in storm and flood claims for this past December/January alone as evidence that insurers are meeting their policyholders fairly.

But comments of Finance Minister Michael Noonan last month – that insurers must do more than merely collect premiums – are augmented by the scathing criticisms now delivered by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

There is a resistance in government circles towards any state involvement as 'insurer of last resort'. The move to impose a levy, on top of the two other existing levies, appears crude. But it is hard to think of another remedy. For everyone's sake – including their own – a meaningful response from the insurance sector is now overdue.

Irish Independent

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