Tuesday 16 July 2019

Car cover: Are fewer consumers prepared to take complaint route?

Car Insurance forms
Car Insurance forms

Since 2012, insurers have been prohibited under EU law from using gender as a basis for differential pricing.

Age, however, is still a rating factor, but it must be applied within strict limits that were clarified by the Irish Equality Authority in 2003.

The relevant case involved Jim Ross, who was refused a motor insurance quotation by Royal Sun Alliance on the basis that they did not take on new business from people over the age of 70.

When Mr Ross pursued his complaint, the insurers argued that they were entitled to rely on an exemption in the Equal Status Act.

Subsection 5(2)(d) exempts from the general prohibition on discrimination: "...Differences in the treatment of persons in relation to annuities, pensions, insurance policies or any other matters related to the assessment of risk where the treatment is effected by reference to actuarial or statistical data obtained from a source on which it is reasonable to rely."

That's one part.

There is another. It goes: "...Or other relevant underwriting or commercial factors and is reasonable having regard to the data or other relevant factors."

At the outset, all parties agreed that to avail of a defence the insurer was required first to show that it fully satisfied either test on data or on other factors.

This meant that the burden of proof was on the company to justify the less favourable treatment of the consumer on grounds of age.

Large volumes of actuarial and statistical data were submitted by the company before and during the hearing.

Further analyses and interpretations of that evidence were found to be inadequate to satisfy either test.

The Equality Officer concluded that the questions raised about the source and integrity of the statistics meant there was insufficient evidence that the data "was obtained from a source on which it is reasonable to rely".

It was also not accepted that the insurer's decision was "reasonable, having regard to the data or other relevant factors".

Accordingly, then, the insurer had not satisfied the first limb of the test.

The insurer also failed in their efforts to avail of the second limb of the exemption because it had an across-the-board policy of refusing quotations to people based on their age.

Mr Ross was awarded compensation equivalent to three years' premium.

A warning was also issued to other insurers to review any practices where there was a refusal on the grounds of age.

This case received wide publicity at home and abroad.

The decision was ground-breaking in terms of the curb it put on the right of insurance companies to decide who might or might not avail of their services.

The dispute required a high level of input from legal and actuarial teams for both sides.

There are many hurdles faced by those who suspect they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination.

This unlawful practice might not have come to light but for the fact that Mr Ross was a clever consumer in the sense that he was shopping around after receiving what he considered to be an excessive quotation from his previous insurer.

However, recent insights from behavioural economics may also be in use by insurers.

Some insurers are of the view that older consumers are less likely to undertake online research and/or have a (misplaced) sense of loyalty to their existing service provider.

On November 1, 2014 the functions of the Equality Authority were transferred to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Their annual report for 2017 mentions just one insurance case, compared to 19 queries about the applicability of equality legislation to insurance back in 2010.

Are insurers more compliant now or are there fewer consumers prepared to undergo the complaint process?

Irish Independent

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