Wednesday 23 October 2019

Groups facing closure over high insurance costs

Survey finds community and voluntary groups are facing an uncertain future

Bill Browne

The results of a new survey have revealed the pressure being put on community and voluntary groups due to rocketing insurance costs - with almost half of those surveyed saying their bodies were in danger of closing if insurance costs continue to rise.

The insurance summary, undertaken by the Public Participation Network (PPN) questioned groups involved in various community activities across the country about the impact that insurance costs are having on their ability to maintain levels of service. 

PPNs are networks based in local authority areas that facilitate these authorities to connect and work in tandem with local community and voluntary groups.

The participants questioned represented a broad range of interests and activities, including community development bodies and community centres, sporting organisations, Tidy Towns, mental health advocates, education/literacy groups and residents associations. 

Of the more than 750 groups that responded to the survey, more than 82% said their insurance costs had increased over the past three years, with 86% of those indicating their premiums had risen by between 10% to 50%. 

At the other end of the scale, almost 5% of respondents said their premiums had more than doubled, with 34% saying they now pay more than €1,500 per annum for insurance cover. 

Almost 45% of groups said rising insurance costs had forced them to reduce the number of activities they can undertake, with almost two-thirds of respondents saying they would be in a position to run more community  events and activities if costs had not risen. 

More than 80% of respondents said they were finding it increasingly difficult to find funding streams to cover insurance costs Almost 80% said they were "concerned" about how they will find the money needed to cover insurance costs going forward, with more than 47% saying their groups were in danger of being shut down in the event that these costs continue to rise.

Asked if they thought the government was doing enough to tackle the issue of spiralling insurance costs, almost 88% of respondents said no. 

Many of the groups surveyed provided specific examples of how insurance costs were impacting on their activities. 

One scouting group said their premiums has increased from €47 to €65 per person this year, adding "this will significantly impact" on finances for training, rent, outings and programme resources for the coming years. 

One respondent said most of their income was now being spent on insurance, another said they had to cancel all outdoor activities for children, while a number of groups reported they had to lay off TUS workers. 

One group said they had to increase the price of activities to help cover insurance costs, another said they had to borrow money to cover this year's premium and one replied that their choir for people with special needs was "in danger of collapsing" due to the strain on their finances. 

One respondent summed up the overall situation in a nutshell, saying they needed insurance to cover fundraising events to raise money for a swimming pool. "We can't hold fundraisers without insurance, but we can't pay for insurance without fundraisers. This year, committee members had to pay for insurance out of their own pockets." 

PPN spokesperson Sarah Wetherald said the results of the survey confirmed what they were hearing from groups that provide a wealth of services to their communities, on an all too regular basis. 

"The infrastructure of volunteering in Ireland is being threatened by spiralling insurance costs, unavailability of insurance cover, and increasingly unreasonable exclusions and conditions," said Ms Wetherald. 

She said that while small firms with massive premium rises tend to close, voluntary groups "stagger on" and managed to survive only by cutting core services and activities. 

"This means much of the impact of this crisis has being hidden up to now because they are not closing. In this context, it is shocking to see 47pc of survey respondents saying they may have to close up," she said. 

Ivan Cooper, of The Wheel support group for non-profit bodies, said the very nature of how Irish society is organised is at risk from the insurance crisis. 

"The fabric of Irish society is under threat due to this crisis and we cannot afford any further delays to proposed reforms," said Mr Cooper.