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Regulator's probe prompts Combined to suspend its Irish sales

SPECIALIST insurer Combined Insurance is suspending all Irish sales and carrying out a "strategic review" on foot of issues identified by a lengthy Financial Regulator probe.

Staff and sales agents for the niche insurer, which pulled in premiums of close to €40m in 2009, were told of the decision to suspend all new business at meetings yesterday.

About 60 self-employed sales agents will lose their livelihoods if the suspension becomes permanent. Combined is entering into a consultation period with the 65 Irish staff it employs directly.

The move comes almost a year after the regulator began a probe into "sales and governance practices" at Combined, which specialised in door-to-door sales of products such as accident and hospital benefit.

"Combined Insurance has decided to suspend the sale of insurance in Ireland pending a strategic review," the company's spokesman said last night.

"The company, which maintains a strong financial position, will continue to serve its existing policyholder base, including policy renewals and payment of valid claims".

A spokeswoman for the Central Bank declined to comment on the move, but stressed that existing customers can "continue to do business and make claims in the normal way".

Owned by US insurance giant Ace, Combined is a major player in the 'accident and illness' market, specialising in hospital benefit, sickness income plans and accidental disability plans.

The business hit the headlines last year following revelations of complaints to the Financial Ombudsman about its selling practices.

The family of a 77-year-old farmer claimed he had been sold nine unnecessary policies over 15 years and had eventually put up barbed wire to keep out Combined's sales agents.

Combined overhauled its sales operations last autumn.

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