Regulator says insurers should pay legal bills for customers’ business interruption cases

Insurance companies should pay the legal costs of customers who challenge refusal to pay out on business interruption claims, the Central Bank say.

In updated guidance, the regulator said that where cover and related issues are disputed, the Central Bank expects firms to pay the reasonable costs of customer plaintiffs in agreed test case litigation. The most high profile of such cases at the moment involves claims taken by four publicans against FBD, that are representatives of hundreds of similar claims. FBD last week increased its estimate for the likely costs in relation to the actions from €22m to €30m.

Where customers have an entitlement to claim under a business interruption insurance policy, the Central Bank expects that claims will be processed and paid promptly and fully.

The Central Bank said that some business interruption insurance policies provide cover for the circumstances of interruption related to the outbreak of COVID-19, while others clearly do not. And in some cases the position is unclear but a strong or reasonable argument can be made that they do provide cover.

Director General of Financial Conduct, Derville Rowland, said: “The Framework reiterates our core message to firms: that they honour valid claims in full and pay them promptly.”

“Furthermore, where cover is disputed and businesses have pursued litigation, insurance firms should be cognisant of the significant costs burden faced by their customers. We therefore expect that in circumstances where the firm obtains the benefit of a court’s interpretation of issues at hand, a firm should agree to pay the reasonable costs of customer plaintiffs in agreed test case litigation and should not seek its costs against these plaintiffs.”

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Family car costs fall due to drop in prices at the pumps

The cost of running a family car has fallen, largely due to lower fuel prices at the forecourts.

The average cost of running a family car fell to €10,386, according to the AA’s annual survey of motoring costs. This is down €207.26 on last year.

The biggest year-on-year change is due to an almost 10pc drop in the average cost of fuel. Average insurance costs have also fallen.

It comes as Liberty Insurance is investing €100m in a technology upgrade that will allow motorists to customise their insurance cover.

A collapse in global demand for oil due to the Covid-19 outbreak has seen pump prices fall in recent months, even though they have begun to creep up again lately with travel volumes increasing.

The average cost of a litre of petrol fell from 139.5c last year to 125.9c this month. Diesel prices fell from 129.9c to 117.3c.

The AA said there has been a drop in insurance prices, but it warned of high costs for non-standard risks and said promised insurance reform has still not been delivered.

AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said figures from the Central Statistics Office show the average cost of motor insurance dropped by 7.6pc in June compared with the same month last year.

But he said there are plenty of motorists whose insurance costs have not reduced.

This was particularly the case for returning emigrants and those with claims, or other non-standard risks.

The AA called on the Government and the insurance industry to ramp up insurance reform efforts.

Meanwhile, Liberty Insurance said it had designed a “unique” cloud-based technology that will effectively eliminate the need for it to rely on its complex legacy systems.

The IT upgrade offers customers a range of cover options as part of a basic package and then allows them to customise a product that most suits their needs, with a ­number of optional add-ons.

This will mean motorists deciding if they want to add or subtract the likes of windscreen breakage cover or breakdown assistance to ­policies.

Further product enhancements are planned for the new year, the company said.

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Opportunities offered for researchers and enterprises under Horizon 2020

Research and innovation is the bedrock of success for the most ambitious companies that scale internationally, diversify their export base and create jobs at home.

A higher education sector and research ecosystem that is outward looking and internationally engaged, and collaborating with Irish companies, is of critical importance to Ireland’s place in the world and to our global competitiveness.

As citizens we rely on our innovators and researchers as engines of economic growth and to help us overcome some our greatest societal challenges.

With the emergence of Covid-19 and the challenges posed by climate change, the truth of this has never been clearer. A key pillar of Enterprise Ireland’s client engagement strategy is therefore to support companies and researchers to individually and collaboratively achieve their global ambition.

The European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme is designed to support innovators and researchers, by funding research excellence, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges.

To date, Irish companies and researchers have been awarded and contracted in excess of €987m in funding under Horizon 2020 – with more in the pipeline.

Horizon 2020 will be succeeded by Horizon Europe. However, many opportunities remain over the next six months.

Following a call in May for applications focusing on the EU Green Deal, the European Commission’s European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator recently announced that 64 European startups and SMEs are to be awarded some €307m.

The EIC Accelerator pilot supports high-risk, high-potential SMEs and innovators to help them develop and bring onto the market new innovative products, services and business models that could drive economic growth.

Applicants are able to apply for up to €2.5m in grant support, and for up to €15m in equity investment.

Two Galway-based companies were among the successful applicants.

NVP Energy Limited is to receive funding for its Ambi-Robic technology for treating municipal sewage wastewater, and GlasPort Bio Limited is to receive funding for its GasAbate N+ technology for removing greenhouse gas emissions from animal manure. Stored manures account for 16pc of all greenhouse gas emissions from EU agriculture.

The success of these companies followed the announcement in June by the EIC that eight Irish companies secured more than 10pc of the funding allocated under this call and have been awarded grant and equity funding totalling more than €31m.

The budget for this call was increased by the EIC to ensure that many Covid-19 relevant innovations were supported in addition to other thematic areas.

Among the successful applicants were seven Enterprise Ireland clients. They included Kite Medical, OneProjects Design Innovation, Provizio, Remedy Biologics, Kastus Technologies, SiriusXT and Aquila Biosciences.

These results are a testament to the vibrancy of the Irish commercialisation and startup eco-system and should be celebrated. The final EIC Accelerator call for applications closes on October 7 – and it has no thematic focus.

Importantly, it has a focus on female entrepreneurship where, should the first-round evaluation show that a minimum of 25pc of companies selected for the final-stage interviews are not led by women, additional interviews will then be planned.

The EIC accelerator is a real opportunity for entrepreneurs to raise funding, innovate and scale their businesses. The only real challenge that these companies can have is if they are not being sufficiently ambitious.

In the autumn, a Horizon 2020 call for applications totalling close to €1bn will be launched to respond to the urgency of climate change and to the ambition of the European Green Deal objectives.

This will be a cross-cutting work programme covering a vast array of European Green Deal-related topics. And there will be opportunities for innovators and researchers across Europe to collaborate and compete for funding.

Under the umbrella of the European Enterprise Network (EEN), Enterprise Ireland and our colleagues in Invest NI will be running a virtual brokerage event on the European Green Deal call on October 13.

This event will be an opportunity to get further information and to meet potential consortia partners from across the island of Ireland and the wider Horizon 2020 family.

See here to register: h2020-green-deal-call-dublin.b2match.io/.

For more information about the extensive supports available to innovators and researchers under Horizon 2020 and the Horizon 2020 National Contact Point Network please refer to horizon.ie.

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An Post’s ‘one-stop shop’ for greener homes

An Post is to launch a “one-stop shop” for householders who are upgrading their homes to make them more energy efficient.

The scheme involves a package that includes cheap loans, having the work carried out for homeowners, and applying for the grant for the consumer.

The all-in-one approach will mean that those taking a loan from An Post will have the retro-fitting work carried out for them, project management looked after, and the grant- application process handled.

The Green Finance offer is being launched at a time when there is a national push to retro-fit up to 500,000 houses.

The scheme will enable householders to make environmentally responsible decisions when investing in their homes or when replacing ­petrol or diesel vehicles.

It comes under the State company’s An Post Money brand, which already offers current accounts, personal loans and credit cards, with plans to offer mortgages and loans for small firms in the future. An Post has set up what it calls a Green Hub on its website, but consumers can also access it in 950 post offices.

The ‘green loans’ are issued by AvantCard for An Post with a rate of 4.9pc on amounts over €20,000.

Managing director of An Post Retail Debbie Byrne said this was a market-leading rate.

The loans are expected to be typically used for installing heat pumps, solar panels and wall insulation. The repayments on the loan can be stretched over 10 years.

Ms Byrne said: “This one-stop-shop approach will cover loan-only or full retro-fit services, from initial home assessments to completed works and a seamless Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) grant application and payment process.”

The offer also includes the provision of a survey.

An Post has partnered with the SEAI and energy company SSE Airtricity to carry out the works, and provide access to grants.

The SEAI administers grants, with up to €6,000 available for external-wall insulation on a detached house.

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Impact of COVID on government welfare

Social Support for businesses and employees impacted by COVID-19

People all over the world have started to feel the real impact of COVID-19. In Ireland, the government has created different funding schemes for people who wish to claim from them. This is to help subsidize their income during these hard times. Businesses have also requested that they be allowed to start working again.

COVID 19 unemployment recipients rise to 600,000

During this pandemic, nearly 598,000 people have become dependent on the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Fund. This is a sharp rise of 7000 from the week before. During this time there have been 52,000 people who have been given subsidized payment from the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. While there is no requirement for this payment, officers from each branch have been “cross-checking” payments to check for “mis-claiming” by individuals.

Housing Alliance seeks permission to restart building works.

The Ó Cualann Cohousing alliance is seeking permission to restart building on a housing development in Ballymun, Dublin. Even though the cohousing alliance isn’t on the list of 35 housing developments which have been given permission to start building.

Covid-19 Welfare subsidies may be tapered

The Minister of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Mr Paschal Donohoe says that he will be tapering and changing the Covid-19 welfare subsidies at the end of the 12 week introduction period. He said that he would like to keep the public payouts safe, as well as giving the 40,000 companies who have availed the Welfare payouts a fighting chance. Especially with the unemployment rate standing at 22%, a sharp increase since February this year. 

Covid-19 unemployment payments to cost Exchequer over €5bn for three months.

The Economic and Social Research Institute says that the government will have to pay out 5 Billion Euros over the next three months. It warns that the cap on higher earners within the wage subsidy scheme may encourage firms to lay off these employees instead of retaining them. The ESRI estimates that some 600,000 jobs may be lost due to Covid-19 pandemic.

IMF provides debt relief to 25 poor countries

The International Monetary Fund has said that it will provide debt relief to some of the poorer countries affected by Covid-19. This is a bid to help free up some funds for the countries affected. The countries are nearly all in Africa but include, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nepal and Haiti as some of the other countries that will benefit. 

Many jobs have been lost due to Covid-19 pandemic. Although the governments have done everything they can to help taper the loss of jobs and income. There are still risks involved until the pandemic has subsided and the economy is restarted to full capacity. We might see more job losses and more reliance on the government in the near future.

Let us help you plan your business’s financial future during these uncertain times. Contact us today.

Coronavirus plunges Europe’s leading economies into historic recessions

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged Europe’s leading economies into historic recessions, figures published on Friday showed.

France and Spain both reported double-digit quarter-on-quarter falls in economic output in the three months to June.

The figures came after both the US and Germany on Thursday reported a loss of about a tenth of their gross domestic product in the second quarter.

Spain’s economy was worst hit, with its GDP declining 18.5 per cent, according to preliminary estimates by the National Statistics Institute.

The fall was worse than analysts had expected and followed a contraction of 5.2 per cent in the first quarter, wiping out seven years of growth since the country’s last recession and leaving output at levels last seen in 2002.

France suffered its largest contraction in output since the second world war. Its GDP was down 13.8 per cent quarter on quarter in the three months to June, although the fall was slightly smaller than analysts anticipated.

This marked the country’s third consecutive quarter of contraction, according to the official statistics agency Insee.

The decline was driven by a 25.5 per cent decline in exports and a 20 per cent drop in government investment. Insee also revised its figure for France’s first-quarter contraction down by 0.6 percentage points, to a contraction of 5.9 per cent.

Spanish fragility

The Spanish figures in particular have fuelled economists’ fears for one of Europe’s more fragile economies.

“It’s the kind of drop one would see in a war,” said José Ignacio Conde Ruiz, a professor of economics at Madrid’s Complutense University. “The only sector that grew was agriculture.”

Spain’s recovery is already under threat from a steep rise in new coronavirus infections that has led other countries to tighten their travel advice, threatening the prospects for its strategically important tourism sector. Tourism makes up about a seventh of Spain’s GDP. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020.

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Consumer-facing workers face most risk of long-term unemployment – study

Workers in consumer-facing industries such personal services, accommodation, and food and beverage are most at risk of slipping into long-term unemployment once State supports are removed, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned.

The research paper, entitled Managing Mass Unemployment Flows During the Covid-19 Pandemic, aims to categorise claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) on the basis of their expected risk of future long-term unemployment.

It warns that Ireland’s Public Employment Services (PES), which operates the State’s various employment supports and job activation schemes, are likely to face “substantial constraints arising from the rapid increase in jobseeker claimants”.

When the PUP scheme closes at the end of March next year, it is expected that PES will have to transfer a large number of individuals from the emergency PUP to the Live Register, the report said.

“These circumstances create a huge administrative burden that will stretch Ireland’s PES,” it said.

Using a combination of administrative and Labour Force Survey (LFS) data, the research identifies PUP claimants that have the greatest risk of falling into long-term unemployment, officially those without a job for over 12 months.

The sectors with high job loss rates were other personal service activities, such as hairdressers and beauticians; accommodation; real estate activities; food and beverage service activities; and specialised construction activities, such as demolition and site preparation.

It also classified two travel industry sectors as high-risk given the industry is likely to one of the last to resume operations and will likely experience more medium-term impacts.

High-risk sectors

The ESRI’s study noted that these high-risk sectors accounted for 13.6 per cent of total employment prior to the pandemic and make up 37.5 per cent of PUP claimants. Conversely, low-risk sectors such as finance and IT accounted for 55.4 per cent of employment before to the health pandemic and 19.9 per cent of PUP claimants, it said.

The research also highlighted that the impact of the pandemic is skewed with respect to age, with those under 25 having the highest job loss rate (46.7 per cent) but the lowest share of total employment in the economy (11 per cent).

In contrast, those aged 55 and above have the lowest job loss rate (18.6 per cent) and also a low share of employment (18.4 per cent).

With respect to geographic location, the Border region has the highest job loss rate (29.1 per cent) while Dublin has the lowest job loss rate (23.9 per cent) .

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Government U-turn on excluding business owners from wage subsidy

The Government has reversed a decision to exclude proprietary directors from the new Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) after small business owners warned the move would lead to the closure of companies.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said late on Friday that he had asked Revenue to reinstate directors to the scheme and has also asked his department to review the provision.

The U-turn comes after many businesses owners expressed anger at being excluded from the scheme in a move that would effectively leave them without any income.

It also followed commitments from fellow Ministers Michael McGrath and Simon Coveney to find a solution.

The new subsidy, announced as part of the July Stimulus package, will apply from July 31st to the end of March 2021. It runs concurrently with the existing Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme (TWSS) until the end of next month, when that scheme will cease.

Proprietary directors were to be excluded under the new subsidy. The Department of Finance said that, as the owner or co-owner of a company, a proprietary director was considered to be in a position that “is much less likely to be considered a vulnerable employment”.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Donohoe had said he recognised that the exclusion of directors from the scheme was “an issue for some”. But he added that the measures had been put in place to avoid abuse of the scheme, which will cost approximately €2.2 billion to the end of March 2021.

Business owners reacted with fury over the last 48 hours on news that they would be excluded from the new scheme.

Richard and Mairead Jacobs, owners of Cork-based Idaho Cafe, said self-employed people had been “thrown under a bus” by being excluded from the scheme at such a difficult period.

‘Singled out’

Their comments were echoed by Karl Purdy, owner of CoffeeAngel, who said business owners “don’t expect to be saved by Government. But equally, [they] don’t expect or accept being singled out and assaulted by those who represent us.”

Linda Jones, managing director of the Travel Boutique, had said the original decision would “effectively close all travel agencies down”.

“Travel agencies are only able to keep their staff thanks to the current wage scheme and now business owners won’t even have any income at all as they try to keep their businesses trading,” she said, adding that travel agents had been planning a protest in Dublin next week over the decision.

Isme chief executive Neil McDonell said business owners were “stressed and annoyed” about the news. “For a lot of small companies, the subsidy is their only form of income at the moment,” he said.

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