CGU Insurance Limited ABN (an IAG Company) Submission to VICTORIAN COMPETITION AND EFFICENCY COMMISSION

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1 CGU Insurance Limited ABN (an IAG Company) Submission to VICTORIAN COMPETITION AND EFFICENCY COMMISSION INQUIRY INTO REGULATIONS OF THE HOUSING CONSTRUCTION SECTOR AND RELATED ISSUES Submitted: Thursday, 3 March 2005

2 BUILDERS WARRANTY INSURANCE Do these arrangements currently provide adequate protection for homeowners? Should builders warranty insurance apply to apartment developments that are in excess of three stories? Has Victoria s experience with the warranty insurance arrangements since July 2002 indicated the need for any changes to these arrangements? The adoption of statutory home warranty (or builders warranty) insurance by all Australian states and the ACT was founded on the need to protect homebuyers against builder failure. Like all statutory classes of insurance, regulators have to balance the competing interests of the public, the building industry and insurance providers. The public interest is served by the provision of insurance that is easy to understand, affordable and available to meet legitimate claims. Builders want ease of understanding, accessibility and affordability. Insurers need certainty in terms of insurance regulation and the ability to select and price risk (ie builders) based on accurate and statistically relevant historical data. The question of whether the current regime provides adequate protection to consumers must be seen in the light of all these competing interests. In our view, it is difficult to tell whether the cover is adequate, in the absence of data from VCAT and the Building Commission on the number of disputes involving home builders. It ought to be borne in mind that consumer protection of homeowners is not restricted to the provision of insurance. Home builders are obliged to provide statutory warranties in respect of all residential building work, the breach of which can be remedied through VCAT/the courts, with possible penalties against the builder. The building inspection or certification process that is mandatory in most states also protects new home buyers.

3 High Rise Apartment Developments CGU Insurance Limited commenced writing home warranty insurance in Victoria in May As such, our focus has been to offer the statutory product in Victoria and all other states in which CGU Home Warranty currently operate. We have started to consider offering products that are additional to the statutory product. One area that we were concerned about is the removal of residential apartment buildings above 3 stories from the requirement of compulsory insurance. One view is it that creates an anomaly with the consumer protection requirement that gave rise to home warranty insurance as a statutory class. On the other hand, the inherent risk accumulation and continued agitation for regulatory change in the home warranty class environment appears to have dampened any reinsurance appetite in these types of risk. We welcome the necessary exchanges of views put forward by all parties to determine the need for and viability of, any such extension of any such submission of the warranty product. Any information that the Victorian Government is willing to share on its experience in reinsuring high rise developments would also provide much needed financial rigour to the debate about balancing the inherent risk accumulation versus the probable or actual risk of loss. Further changes needed since 2002 The 2002 reforms that the Victorian Government implemented in tandem with the NSW Government has created a more stable and now more competitive builders warranty market. Further change took place in 2004, in strengthening the entry requirements for providers. The Victorian Government has also initiated further dialogue with the insurers, stakeholders, industry groups and the wider community to create a transparent and viable insurance product.

4 There are two areas where we recommend further change: 1. Approved Insurers We would advocate strengthening the approval process for potential new providers of builders warranty insurance. In our view, only APRA approved insurers ought to be approved to offer home warranty insurance in Victoria, as it is in NSW. This would create a more level playing field for all competitors. 2. Restrictions of Owner/builder permits We welcome the amendments made to the Building Act in November 2004 that we understand has the effect of restricting owner/builder permits to one every three years. However it does not go far enough. In our view, the issuance of owner builder permits in Victoria has been abused and will continue to do so, unless and until Councils and certifiers are more vigilant in ensuring that these permits are not being used by unlicensed builders to undertake residential building work. We strongly recommend that owner builder permits should be restricted to one every 5 years, to harmonise the Victorian regime with NSW. Apart from the above legislative amendments, we are of the view that home warranty insurance market should be free of structural change for another 3 years, in order for insurers and regulators to have statistically relevant data to assess the success of the current regime. Longer-term, we would support a national move to harmonise home warranty insurance regimes across Australia.

5 Is the insurance market operating in a manner that provides accessible builders warranty insurance, at a reasonable cost and thus does not impede competition in the housing construction sector? Are there alternative insurance arrangements (e.g. those operating in other jurisdictions) that would provide better outcomes? It is our view that the Victorian Warranty market is now operating in a transparent and accessible manner, providing insurance to an overwhelming majority of builders at a reasonable cost. With entry of CGU and Lumley, there are now at least four insurers in the Victorian market. The prospective introduction of market practice guidelines will ensure that builders are fully advised of an insurers decision and indicative rates will be made publicly available. If the NSW experience is any guide, the state regulator will also audit compliance by insurers with service level standards. In our view, these changes are evidence of a competitive and robust market. The only real alternative to the scheme accurately operating in Victoria, NSW, SA and WA is the taxpayer supported scheme in Queensland. There is no evidence that this scheme would provide any better outcomes, for builders and/or consumers in the long term. In fact it is likely that the insurance scheme may not be sustainable, without expenses being subsidised by licensing fees. ********* We welcome the opportunity to provide a submission to the Victorian Inquiry into the regulation of the housing sector and related issues. If necessary, CGU will be available to attend public hearings conducted by the Inquiry.

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