109. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans regarding the review and reform of regulations and laws surrounding fraudulent personal injury claims in the workplace to help protect small and medium size businesses from fraudulent claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38175/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The issues raised by the Deputy are among those being considered by the Cost of Insurance Working Group that was established in July 2016 and is chaired by Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy TD. The objective of the Working Group is to identify and examine the drivers of the cost of insurance, and recommend short, medium and longer term measures to address the issue of increasing insurance costs, taking account of the requirement for the need to ensure a financially stable insurance sector. A significant factor identified by the Working Group in its reports, which are available with action updates on the Department of Finance website, is the impact of fraudulent insurance claims.
In relation to workplace health and safety, it should be noted that responsibility for policy in this area, and for the governance of the Health and Safety Authority, rests with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which also includes the Personal Injuries Assessment Board within its remit and advocates across Government to ensure the needs of small and medium size enterprise are taken into account in the execution of national policy. Both that Department and my own and a number of the key State Bodies concerned are, therefore, represented on the Cost of Insurance Working Group and are working together on the implementation of its recommendations. Moreover, the relevant representative bodies of the business and enterprise sectors are actively engaging with the Working Group in making their respective concerns known.
In its Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance published in January 2017, the Working Group reviewed sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. Section 25 deals with false evidence and provides that a person who gives false or misleading evidence in a personal injuries action is guilty of an offence. Section 26 deals with fraudulent actions and provides for the dismissal by the court of a personal injuries action where the plaintiff gives evidence that is false or misleading.
The Cost of Insurance Working Group noted that the number of recorded prosecutions and convictions for the offence of false evidence in section 25 is very low and that this suggests a need for further co-operation between the insurance industry and An Garda Síochána. The Working Group noted its understanding that while the majority of the initial applications in respect of fraudulent actions under section 26 were refused it would appear from more recent reported judgments that more claims are now being dismissed following a successful action under section 26. The Working Group concluded that it is satisfied that sections 25 and 26 do not need further review.
However, a number of other measures are being taken by way of ensuring that sections 25 and 26 can have their intended effect in relation to insurance fraud. Key to this approach has been the convening of a roundtable by the Department of Finance in late 2017 to listen to the views of key stakeholders in relation to insurance fraud and which has met several times since to progress a number of specific recommendations contained in the Cost of Insurance Working Group’s Report of January 2018 relating to the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance.
Recommendations 11 and 12 of that report concern the production of statistics by An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service on complaints, investigations, prosecutions and convictions relating to fraud within the personal injuries area. My Department has actively engaged with the Garda authorities and the Courts Service this year in relation to the implementation of these recommendations, and I am informed that a Garda PULSE release comprising a number of new fraud incident types, including insurance fraud, will go live on 27 September 2018. This PULSE release will facilitate the production of statistics on complaints, investigations, prosecutions and convictions relating to insurance fraud by An Garda Síochána.
Recommendation 13 of the same report recommends that Insurance Ireland, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions agree a set of guidelines in respect of the reporting of suspected fraudulent insurance claims. While guidelines were published in 2004, the Working Group noted that these were used to a very limited extent over the years. The Working Group proposed that a new set of guidelines should be developed, using the 2004 iteration as a starting point. In line with the intention to use the existing guidelines to inform the drafting of new, more fit for purpose guidelines, An Garda Síochána produced a draft document, which proposed a number of changes to the section of the existing guidelines concerning the station or section within An Garda Síochána to which a formal complaint should be made. Insurance Ireland signalled its agreement with the changes proposed, following which further consultations were arranged with other key stakeholders, including insurance providers not represented by Insurance Ireland. I understand that the guidelines are now ready to be finalised, in the context of all of the feedback received, and the intention is to publish the guidelines by the end of the current month.
As I think the Deputy will appreciate from these developments, a concerted policy approach is being taken with the support of the Cost of Insurance Working Group to address the issue of insurance fraud including as it impacts on small and medium enterprises and the broader business community. This is being done by means of a series of mutually reinforcing measures. At the same time they are intended, in their collective implementation, to give greater effect to the existing provisions of sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.