1. Findings from the OFT Report on the UK market as a whole

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1 Briefing on Legal and Justice issues relating to the Cost of Car Insurance February

2 Background The Consumer Council has continued its campaign to lower the cost of car insurance in Northern Ireland (NI). Following a formal submission from the Consumer Council s in August 2011 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) collected evidence in relation to motor insurance costs and reported in December Findings from the OFT Report on the UK market as a whole Car Insurance premiums paid in GB rose by 12 per cent between 2009 and 2010 and 9 per cent between 2010 and first three quarters of The OFT found a number of issues with the UK insurance market that were responsible for higher prices. Costs associated with Claims The OFT note that the costs associated with claims have been increasing in the UK. Within this area personal injury costs and third party non- injury claims were found to be a factor. This included credit hire replacement vehicles and third party vehicle repairs. The main problem is that third party insurers have a lack of control over costs and drivers involved in accidents may be referred to repairers or hire companies that may not be the most cost effective. The OFT launched a market investigation into third party non- injury claims, credit hire replacement vehicles and third party vehicle repairs in December 2011 and will report in Spring Motor Legal Protection The OFT raised concerns in relation to how motor legal protection cover is sold. They are concerned that the product is complex. The way in which it is being sold makes it hard for drivers to assess its true value and realise that they can choose to opt out of buying motor legal protection service. The OFT have called on the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to work with insurers and brokers to ensure consumers are being provided with appropriate information. 2. Specific Focus on NI The OFT agreed to give a specific focus to NI in their call for evidence, following the Consumer Council s formal submission in August They found that there were differences between car insurance premiums between NI and Great Britain (GB). 2

3 The main differences are: Insurance premiums paid by NI consumers are 11 per cent higher on average That historically this difference over the past five years was much higher. That insurance quotes for consumers in rural areas of NI are between 30 and 70 percent higher than quotes for consumers in the rest of GB. The OFT offered explanations for the differences in premiums in NI and GB Cost of Claims The cost of private motor insurance claims in NI are higher than in GB and OFT gave two key explanations for this: Compensation levels for personal injury claims are higher in NI and therefore personal injury settlements are higher. Differences in the legal processes appear to be leading to higher legal costs in NI in comparison with GB. In particular, the absence of a compulsory pre-action protocol may well have the effect of making litigation more prevalent in NI than in GB as the applicable procedures do not appear to provide the same incentive to settle cases quickly. Road Safety Road safety is also a contributing factor to higher premiums. Statistically NI has more accidents per capita and per vehicle which impacts upon private motor insurers' costs. In 2010 NI had reported road traffic collisions per 100,000. In comparison with 263 in England, 197 in Scotland and 228 in Wales. Consumer Behaviour OFT suggest consumers in NI are less likely to shop around for private motor insurance and less likely to switch provider. Only 54 per cent of consumers in NI shopped around for their private motor insurance at their last renewal compared to 73 per cent in GB 2. Further, of those who shopped around, only 1 Department for Regional Development Northern Ireland Transport Statistics Based on a sample of 410 respondents in GB and 460 respondents in NI, 2011 OFT omnibus survey. 3

4 33 per cent of consumers in NI switched their provider at the last renewal compared with 45 per cent in GB 3. Action required by the Department of Justice The Consumer Council believe that there are actions that the Department of Justice can take to bring down the cost of car insurance. We call upon the Department to review the legal system with regard to claims. We also ask the Department to look again at the levels of compensation awarded and compensation guidance to examine whether they are working in the best interests of all consumers. Cost associated with insurance Claims Some major factors which contribute to the price paid by consumers are the impact of personal injury claims and the legal system processes. Whilst we recognise that the cost of claims is having an effect on the price of premiums throughout the UK, Northern Ireland has very specific issues with regard to claims and compensation. We do not believe that the system is as efficient and as cost effective as it should be. However with a devolved Department of Justice, there is the opportunity to take action and implement change. The Legal System We urge the Department to look at current practice in GB and to the portal system in operation there, established to secure speedy and cost effective settlement of claims. Although this system is in it infancy we believe there are some lessons to be learned. Similar moves to curb costs include the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) which has reduced the cost of claims in the Republic of Ireland. The PIAB is a statutory body which provides independent assessment of personal injury compensation for victims of workplace, motor and public liability accidents. The PIAB claims that it can deliver fair levels of compensation without the need for the majority of current litigation costs (such as Solicitors, Barristers and Experts fees) that add more than 46 per cent on average to the cost of a claim 3. This use of an independent, third party also appears to reduce the time to finalise a compensation claim. Under the court system it can take approximately three years to settle a claim, compared to the average of nine months to settle a personal injury claim via the PIAB. We note the view of the Access to Justice report on the Injuries Board in ROI which is quoted in the recent research paper Justice Related Issues Regarding Car Insurance Cost, It states that the the PIAB was established to 3 Information provided by PIAB 4

5 meet the particular requirements of that jurisdiction and we do not think that circumstances here warrant the potential expense and risks warranted with such a scheme. We believe that this quote was in the context of civil legal aid and a model such as the PIAB merits further consideration. The Consumer Council believes the Department should further examine models such as the portal system in England and Wales and approaches like the PIAB in the Republic of Ireland and implement a model that best suits Northern Ireland. Pre-action Protocol The OFT reported that the absence of a compulsory pre-action protocol in NI may well have the effect of making litigation more prevalent than in GB as the applicable procedures do not appear to provide the same incentive to settle cases quickly. Introduced in April 2008 in Northern Ireland the pre-action protocol aims to achieve best practice litigation practice by encouraging: More pre- action contact between the parties Better and earlier exchange of information Better pre-action investigation by both sides Placing the parties in a position where they may be able to settle cases fairly and early without litigation Enable proceedings to proceed according to the courts timetable and efficiently, if litigation does become necessary The promotion of an overall cards on the table approach to litigation in the interest of keeping the amount invested by the participants in terms of money, time, anxiety and stress to a minimum. The pre-action protocol urges the parties involved to consider alternative dispute resolution. During the course of any litigation both parties may be required by court to produce evidence that alternative means of resolving their dispute have been considered. The pre-action protocol is laid down as best practice guide and there are no penalties for not using it. The Consumer Council would urge the Department of Justice to consider making the pre-action protocol compulsory. Compensation Costs The OFT found that compensation levels for personal injury claims are higher in NI. Private motor insurers have pointed to differences in the levels of compensation set out in the relevant guidelines, and have stated that, as a result personal injury settlements are higher. Guidance on compensation levels are published in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland by the respective Judicial Studies Board. The Book of Quantum sets out guidance on the compensation ranges in the Republic of Ireland. 5

6 Compensation levels are now reviewed every six years by a Committee of judges, barristers and solicitors set up by the Lord Chief Justice. In the introduction to the third edition of the guidelines, Lord Justice Higgins emphasises that the figures mentioned provide a range for the norm of that type of injury and consequence, and are not set in stone. The Consumer Council believes that it is now time to have a debate on these compensation guides and actual compensation figures paid out. We must find the best solution that benefits all consumers, both victims that have suffered injuries as a result of a traffic collisions and the overall detriment to all consumers in their insurance premiums. Level of Fraudulent Claims ABI estimated that in million of insurance fraud went undetected adding 39 on to the cost of every premium 4. The Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) was launched in July 2006 to share information across the industry in order to detect and prevent fraud. According to the recent research paper commissioned by the Justice Committee the IFB have stated Belfast is among the top 40 postcodes in the UK for insurance fraud. We believe that more information is needed directly from the IFB regarding theses. Furthermore as the body charged with dealing with the issue we believe that it would be helpful to hear at first hand what actions the IFB are taking to deal with the issues of fraud. We believe that the Department should examine if closely working ties can be forged the IFB to ensure that the problem of insurance fraud is detected and tackled effectively. Uninsured Drivers According to the MIB there are over 1 million vehicles on the road in Northern Ireland, approximately 35,000 are uninsured drivers 5. ABI states that approximately 7.5 per cent of consumer s insurance premiums goes towards paying for uninsured drivers, the MIB would concur with this and say 30 of every premium goes towards uninsured drivers. Compensation for injuries caused by uninsured drivers is paid by the Motor Insurers Bureau which is funded by the insurance industry and costs 400m a year in the UK. Uninsured drivers cost honest motorists 500 million each year through their premiums. BIBA states young drivers have a poor record and 20 per cent do not have motor insurance. The Consumer Council is concerned that both the current economic conditions and the extremely inhibitive cost of insurance in Northern Ireland for young people will continue to add to the growing number of young people driving without the appropriate insurance. Both the Insurance 4 ABI General Insurance Claims Fraud Figures provided to CCNI from the PSNI 6

7 industry and the PSNI believe that fronting is on the increase in Northern Ireland where young drivers name a parent as the principal driver when in fact the car is being used primarily by the young person. It is perceived that the introduction of continuous insurance enforcement is helping to restore confidence and will help tackle the issue of uninsured drivers in the GB. The Consumer Council believe that the necessary regulations and systems should be put in place to introduce continuous insurance enforcement in NI. The Consumer Council has met with the Minister for the Environment on that issue and he has shown willingness to introduce the systems necessary for continuous enforcement here. According to the Department of Justice approximately 4,000 people per year are convicted for driving without insurance in Northern Ireland 6. We also believe that further joined up working is required between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Justice to ensure uninsured drivers are dealt with appropriately by the PSNI and the judiciary. Currently there is a perception that the judiciary had been overly lenient in handing down punishment to uninsured drivers undermined the seriousness of the situation and disregarding the wider impact on consumers here. This is not a problem particular to Northern Ireland, currently in GB; the Under Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning is working with the Ministry of Justice on sentencing guidance which will act as a robust deterrent against keeping or driving a car against insurance. Conclusion and Recommendations We believe that the Department of Justice must take action as a matter of urgency. We call upon the Department to: Review the legal system with regard to claims Seek to develop a model of best practice suitable for Northern Ireland that can handle damages cases with maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness Examine the levels of compensation awarded and compensation guidance Consider Introducing a compulsory pre-action protocol Look at the work of the IFB and see if closer working links can be forged with the Department of Justice and its agencies to ensure insurance fraud is detected and tackled effectively Work with DOE to ensure uninsured drivers are dealt with appropriately by PSNI and judiciary 6 Letter to Consumer Council dated October

8 8

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