All Party Working Group on Car Insurance Room 29, Parliament Buildings, 25 March 2014 at 4pm

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1 All Party Working Group on Car Insurance Room 29, Parliament Buildings, 25 March 2014 at 4pm Present: Mr Trevor Lunn (Chair) Mr Roy Beggs Mr Alban Maginness Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (for part) Mr Michael McKeown, CRASH Services Limited Mr Jonathan McKeown, JMK Solicitors (NI) Limited Mr Martin McRandal, CRASH Services Limited Ms Julie Coulter, Consumer Council Ms Eimear Duffy, Consumer Council Ms Julie McCurley, Consumer Council The Chair welcomed everyone to what he said was likely to be the penultimate meeting of the All Party Working Group and advised members they would be hearing details from CRASH Services on its operations. Evidence from CRASH Services Mr Michael McKeown thanked the group for the invitation to speak. He began by talking about his background in the insurance industry and how he had set up CRASH Services in 1996 to assist victims of accidents by providing services that insurers had failed to. Mr McKeown advised that CRASH has assisted more than 60,000 motorists since its inception, providing a high level of customer service and challenging the status quo he believes that some in the industry would like to maintain. 1

2 Mr McKeown advised that CRASH is supportive of two recommendations that the Law Society put to the group previously; firstly that Claims Management Companies (CMCs) operating in Northern Ireland should be regulated, and secondly the call for a total ban on referral fees. Mr McKeown also informed the group that CRASH itself is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Mr McKeown then highlighted what he referred to as the abhorrent agreement which the Law Society has made with local insurance companies whereby solicitors are encouraged to hand their clients over to the guilty motorist s insurance company for repairs and a replacement vehicle in exchange for a 200 fee to the solicitor. Mr McKeown went on to say that he doubts the wisdom of the Law Society in this regard, adding that he believes the alliance between the Law Society and motor insurers is an unholy one and asked that the group considers the motivation behind this perverse action. Members heard that CRASH has been assisting the Competition Commission (CC) in its investigation into private motor insurance for the last 12 months and that work is ongoing. Mr McKeown spoke about the focus of the CC on the alleged harm generated by CMCs providing like for like vehicles when this accounts for 1.3 per cent of premiums. He compared it to the administration in handling policy issuing and marketing which can be up to 35 per cent of a premium. Mr McKeown believes that the cost of insurance premiums has as much to do with investment opportunities on the world market as it has with the cost of claims. 2

3 Mr McKeown spoke about the CC s provisional findings, voiced his disappointment at the direction its investigation has taken in respect of Northern Ireland and that it had decided to take no action on issues affecting the local market here. Mr McKeown asked if this was a missed opportunity that might be taken up by the Assembly. Mr McLaughlin joined the meeting. Mr McKeown highlighted the issue of the lack of true statistical information for the Northern Ireland market saying that NI is deficient in information and therefore we have no clear information on the state of our own market. Insurance companies here are not compelled to provide statistics. Mr McKeown referred to the group s primary aspiration of the reduction of insurance premiums for constituents and said that without changing anything else, premiums could be lowered if insurers acted more in the interests of consumers. Mr Lunn thanked Mr McKeown for his comprehensive briefing and asked him what value he saw CRASH contributing to consumers, what then the cost of this was to the consumer, and how CRASH makes its money. Mr McKeown advised that CRASH gives excellent customer service in an area where insurance companies have failed to provide and enjoys a margin on car hire, repair and other service costs. He reiterated that CRASH does not pay referral fees but believed that some other CMCs do however engage in this practice. 3

4 Mr Jonathan McKeown referred to the document entitled Why use CRASH? which members were given at the end of the meeting and highlighted his view that the service gives the consumer the ability to take control and puts power back in his own hands. He advised that CRASH has created a model that is not matched elsewhere and there is consumer demand for this service. Mr Lunn asked what the service adds to the consumer s premium. Mr Michael McKeown repeated the CC s provisional findings which stated that 1.3 per cent of premiums is due to the hire of like for like replacement vehicles. Mr J McKeown added that there was a lack of service from insurance companies, saying it can take 7-27 minutes for a service phone call to be answered but a quote can be given in seconds. Mr Lunn enquired as to why insurance companies do not tend to provide all the required services for their own customers after an accident. Mr Maginness acknowledged that CRASH provides a function for consumers at what would be a stressful time. He asked Mr McKeown what CRASH does if approached by someone with serious or catastrophic injuries after an accident. Mr Michael McKeown advised that CRASH currently does not see this level of injury and would more typically be contacted by people after minor accidents and bumps. Mr J McKeown added they have the expertise to deal with these types of claims and would like to expand further in this area in the future. He also told the group that neither CRASH nor any other CMC settles any personal 4

5 injury cases as this would be through a solicitor acting on behalf of the injured person. Mr McLaughlin left the meeting. Mr Beggs asked what percentage of consumers would use CRASH. Mr McKeown advised that about ten per cent of local customers use CRASH services following an accident. Members discussed the issue of statistics on the Northern Ireland market not being readily available and Mr Michael McKeown suggested that one option would be for the Central Recoveries Unit at the Department for Social Development to have powers to collect information in addition to hospital costs, such as the cost of repairs and car hire, and the cost of personal injury claims settlements. Mr Maginness left the meeting. Mr Beggs referred to the fact reported by the Competition Commission in its preliminary investigation that claims ratios were 11 per cent higher in GB than in Northern Ireland and asked why market forces do not even this out. Mr McRandal advised that the markets are similar but there are barriers to competition here such as a lack of claims information. Mr McRandal said that the top six insurers here control 75 per cent of the market and is of the opinion that it suits them to maintain the status quo. Consequently smaller companies and brokers receive less commission and market conditions are less favourable 5

6 to them. Mr McRandal also advised that the cost of reinsurance for companies in Northern Ireland can be as much as 15 per cent higher than in GB. Mr Beggs asked if rural consumers in Northern Ireland pay significantly more for insurance than their counterparts in GB. He was advised that certainly for younger drivers in rural areas here the figure appears to be significantly higher. Mr Beggs asked further about the relationship between the Law society and insurance companies. Mr Michael McKeown advised there was a fee of 200 which was essentially a payment for making a phone call. Mr Michael McKeown referred to the Competition Commission report again, specifically the findings that 55 per cent of cars repaired by insurers are not repaired to the standard expected. He also spoke about the BBC s report highlighting the practice of AXA Insurance using non-genuine parts on cars more than three years old. Mr Lunn said this is an issue that the All Party Group intended to pursue further. Roy Beggs left the meeting. Mr Lunn asked about the relationship between CRASH and JMK solicitors and was advised that CRASH does provide a lot of business for the solicitors; however the two companies work independently. They neither pay nor receive referral fees. Mr Lunn asked again how CRASH makes its money and was advised that it enjoys a good margin on repairs and car hire. Mr Jonathan McKeown spoke 6

7 about the practice of insurers incentivising repair companies to become preferred suppliers and then squeezing their margins. He believes those relationships are to the detriment of consumers because as repair costs are capped, corners may be cut. Ms Duffy advised that the Consumer Council shared CRASH s disappointment that the CC preliminary report didn t go further to examine the Northern Ireland car insurance market in more detail. Ms Duffy added that the Consumer Council continued to contribute to the current CC investigation and has asked for some follow up work to be done in NI. Mr Lunn asked about the practice of brokers selling legal expenses cover. Mr Michael McKeown said that the FCA is undertaking some work on the issue of add-ons. He referred to the South of Ireland which has its own Regulator. Ms McCurley thanked Mr McKeown for the full written brief he had provided and advised that the group would read it and go back to CRASH with any follow up questions. The Chair thanked Mr Michael McKeown, Mr Jonathan McKeown and Mr McRandal for taking the time to attend and answer members questions. AOB: A date for the next meeting will be advised in due course. The meeting closed at 5.45pm. 7

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