Insurers agree measures to ease Covid-19 burden

The insurance industry has announced a suite of measures aimed at helping personal and business customers through the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

They include a reduction in premiums for business customers that will reflect the reduced level of exposure they have as a result of the restrictions as well as flexibility for those in financial stress.

However, insurer have also warned that most standard business interruption policies here do not support a claim for a pandemic such as Covid-19.

“This is a complex issue, no insurance market in the world provides widespread insurance coverage for pandemics and Ireland is no exception,” Insurance Ireland said in a statement.
 
“However, insurers are very mindful of their commitments to the customer and will adjudicate each claim fairly and consistently in line with the policy terms and conditions.”

Insurance Ireland also said participating companies have agreed that the Government advice to close a business in the context of Covid-19 equates to the same thing as a direction for the purposes of business interruption claims.

It also said that although most policy wordings are clear in terms of what cover is provided and what cover exclusions are in place, where there is a doubt about the meaning of a term, they are committed to giving the benefit of the doubt to the customer.

The Central Bank recently instructed insurers that where there is ambiguity in the interpretation of the contracts of customers who are making claims arising out of the Covid-19 disruption, they must find in favour of the consumer.

The bank also told the firms that it expects that where there is a valid claim, they must pay out promptly.

The measures announced today follow direct engagement between officials from the Department of Finance and Insurance Ireland on how best the insurance industry could support their business customers in the current challenging economic climate. 

Most of the main insurers in the Irish market, including Allianz, AIG, AXA, FBD, RSA, Liberty Insurance, Travelers Insurance and Zurich, have signed up to the common approach.

However, Aviva was not listed as a participant.

Business customers will be able to avail of reduced premiums that will reflect their reduced level of exposure as a result of Covid-19 restrictions in the areas of employers’ liability, public liability and commercial motor.

Companies will also be afforded flexibility around the renewal of their policies, with up to 28 days allowed for payment after renewal. 

There will also be maintenance of existing cover where premises are closed or unoccupied for a period of up to 90 days, once there is proper supervision and security in place.

Firms will also be able to apply for a change of use to property under their policies during the Covid19 crisis.

For personal customers there will be a range of forbearance measures, including payment flexibility for those experiencing financial stress and a renewal grace period of up to 28 days once this has been confirmed by an insurer through contact with the customer or a broker.

No cancellation or missed direct debit fees will be applied, while home insurance cover will be extended to include home working.

Cover will also be widened under private car policies under social, domestic and pleasure use to include volunteer driving, while HSE staff will be given priority treatment, including free breakdown service and a courtesy car if needed.

There will also be a pragmatic approach to the validation of insurance cover by gardai and insurers will accept a four-month extension on NCT certs and driving licences.

Currently Irish insurers are paying out €250m a week to customers in claims and benefits, according to Insurance Ireland.
 
“Customers can be assured that their insurers will continue to deliver for them during the crisis, paying pensions, settling life, travel, household, property, liability, motor and health insurance claims,” Insurance Ireland stated.

Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, said he proposes engaging further with Insurance Ireland on the issues, including business interruption cover, next week. 

“I would like to thank Insurance Ireland for facilitating this agreement,” he said.

“In these difficult times, I am pleased that most of the large insurers in this country recognise that they need to have a co-ordinated pro-active response in relation to issues such as forbearance and the handling of unoccupied premises.”

The Alliance for Insurance Reform has welcomed the developments. 

“We welcome this initial response by the insurance industry to the crisis policyholders are facing right now,” said Peter Boland from the Alliance.

“Needless to say we will need to see how the broad statement with regard to forbearance manifests itself on the ground, ideally in terms of policy extensions or refunds. We would ask the individual insurers to confirm the level of reductions they propose and the timings of those reductions. Because of the nature of this crisis, we need clarity and a sense of real urgency applied to everything to do with insurance so that it can be a help, not a hindrance.”

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