Sunday 21 July 2019

'Sharp practices' by insurance companies after storms left people short-changed - report

Michael D’Arcy: Minister said insurance firms are ‘no white knights’. Picture: Damien Eagers
Michael D’Arcy: Minister said insurance firms are ‘no white knights’. Picture: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Insurance companies engaged in "sharp practices" that saw victims of Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma receive smaller pay-outs than they were owed, a Department of Finance report has found.

An unpublished study suggests homeowners, farmers and even large-scale commercial enterprises were short-changed in the aftermath of the freak weather events.

Minister of State Michael D'Arcy is now working on proposals to stamp out the use of 'cash payments' and 'retention payments' by insurance companies.

Although he wants to implement changes through a voluntary code of practice, the minister is prepared to bring forward legislation.

"I want to push the insurance companies. They are no white knights. They don't give away money easily, but this isn't their money.

"People paid for cover. They calculate the risk and I want to make sure their clients are treated properly," Mr D'Arcy told the Irish Independent.

Estimates suggest Storm Emma and the 'Beast from the East', which combined to bring the heaviest snows in living memory last March, cost Irish insurers €39m.

Storm Ophelia, which brought hurricane-like conditions in parts of the country in October 2017, is thought to have cost €45m.

But concerns have now been raised that insurers took advantage of the crises situation that some people found themselves in.

A review found that significant numbers of people received cash offers for less than their damaged property was insured.

"It's easier, it's quicker, it's cleaner but it's still not an offer of what you insured," Mr D'Arcy said.

In other instances, insurance companies paid out 80pc of a claim and retained 20pc subject to a site inspection.

"We've too many examples of the 20pc being withheld. These are sharp practices that I want to discontinue," Mr D'Arcy said.

Asked whether the issue was limited to specific insurance companies, Mr D'Arcy said: "It was pretty consistent."

The issues were discussed at a meeting of the Cost of Insurance Working Group in the Department of Finance earlier this week.

The State Claims Agency, Personal Injuries Assessment Board and Central Bank have now been asked to come up with ways of improving the consumer experience when it comes to insurance.

Mr D'Arcy said it should not be "a negotiation" because insurance companies have professionals who deal with cases everyday, whereas the average person will make one or two claims in a lifetime.

The Cost of Insurance Working Group has looked at a number of issues in the sector, including the price of motor insurance.

There has been some criticism that it has not made enough progress in clamping down on insurance fraud.

The minister said they are now "moving well" on that issue but gardaí need to pursue more cases.

"There were 400 cases in 2017 where insurance companies went to the guards and said they suspected fraud. Very, very few of those were pursued.

"That needs to be changed," the minister said.

Irish Independent

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