People with disabilities who hire personal assistants to help them live independently have hit out at Irish insurance companies for refusing to provide cover.
A group of people who set up their own companies to manage their own support services have struggled to get public liability and employer insurance after being told there is “no appetite” for care-type risks here.
A UK insurer that previously provided such cover to the group pulled out of the market, citing Brexit.
They have since secured insurance with another UK company, but at a considerably higher cost.
Some have seen their insurance costs increase six-fold and have had to cut back on support hours as a result.
Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT), an organisation that facilitates direct payments to people with disabilities so they can manage their own services, said its members risk having their independence taken away if they cannot get insurance.
People with a disability pay for their personal assistants through service providers, and ÁT helps them set up a company so they can deal with the direct payments from the HSE.
This allows them to recruit their own staff, manage their own finances and live a more independent life.
Now they fear they will no longer be able to do so because of insurance issues.
ÁT CEO Paul McBride told the Irish Independent: “What was startling was every door we went to was closed in our faces. “It shocked me.
“Not one Irish insurance company was prepared – or interested – in offering cover.
“All our members have taken a leap of faith in moving from the more traditional service to our model.
“Essentially, some business person in an office who is faceless to us probably hasn’t taken the time to understand the model.
“They simply said there’s no appetite for the risk. It was a blanket refusal.”
Mr McBride added that “without insurance the staff cannot work, and without the staff our members’ independence is taken away”.
ÁT was set up by four men and women living with different disabilities.
Its founders felt the traditional models of service provision were unsatisfactory.
ÁT acts as an intermediary that gives people with disabilities control over their own budgets and services.
The organisation is also responsible for dealing with the HSE and negotiating budgets on the person’s behalf.
It also reports to the HSE on issues including governance, personal assistant contracts and garda vetting to ensure members are in compliance with all regulations.
“One of our leaders, he was one of the founding members, suffered a spinal injury and ended up in a nursing home,” Mr McBride said.
“He was told what time he had to eat, when he had to go to bed and had no say in how his life was being lived. He and some of his colleagues got the HSE to help them set up ÁT so they could set up their own companies and tailor everything around his needs.
“He now employs his own staff and was able to move home, all because of this particular model. It would be a real shame if insurance could jeopardise that.”
A spokesperson for Insurance Ireland said a report on employers’ liability showed “these markets have been and remain very challenging for insurers in the last decade”.
“The main driver of this challenge is the volatility and unpredictability of the personal injuries claims environment up to now, which in turn leads to volatility and unpredictability in insurance premiums for businesses.
“Our members wish to operate in an environment that is less volatile, delivering more consistent outcomes for customers.”
The spokesperson added that recent data from the National Claims Information Database showed the average cost of an employers’ liability claim increased by 31pc between 2009 and 2019, while the average cost of a public liability claim increased by 16pc.