CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I am very pleased to officially open Insurance Ireland’s fifth Fraud Conference this morning.
I would like to thank Kevin Thompson of Insurance Ireland for the invitation to address an issue which has a significant effect, not only on the insurance industry itself, but also on the population as a whole.
We all require insurance for a variety of issues and in particular, the effects of Hurricane Ophelia earlier this week demonstrated how important it is to have sufficient cover to guard against unforeseen events.
But where there is a general need, such as the need for insurance cover, there is usually an opportunity for exploitation and abuse and in this case, it manifests itself in the form of insurance fraud.
Insurance fraud ranges from the opportunistic to the very organised. For many years, it appeared that Irish society was prepared to tolerate people taking an opportunity to exaggerate claims in order to increase financial reward. However, this attitude appears to be changing in more recent times.
Insurance Ireland has been operating the Insurance Confidential fraud reporting service since 2003 and in 2015, they refreshed their campaign using new communications tools such as social media, resulting in a 26% increase in reported cases of fraud to the Insurance Confidential hotline over a comparable period of the prior campaign.
The escalating costs of insurance cover in recent years has undoubtedly led many people to change their mind-set, as it is clear that exaggerated, opportunistic insurance fraud is one of the factors contributing to those rising premiums which have affected people so severely.
This government has taken action to address those escalating premiums. In July 2016, we established the Cost of Insurance Working Group, initially under the chairmanship of Minister Eoghan Murphy and more recently chaired by Minister Michael D’arcy.
This working group has already completed the first phase of its work, looking at the motor insurance area and identifying 33 recommendations and 71 associated actions to be carried out.
While fraud is not the sole factor behind rising insurance premiums, it is a key component and tackling insurance fraud will benefit people in their pockets, while also minimising opportunities for serious criminals engaged in organised fraud to benefit from their activities to the detriment of society.
One of the recommendations of the first report of the Cost of Insurance Working Group is to look at ways to improve information sharing within the insurance industry and related parties to better identify patterns of fraud.
I am pleased to report that a sub-group, chaired by my Department and also including Insurance Ireland and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, is looking at this very issue and the report will be finalised in the coming weeks which should outline the steps that can be taken to allow for this information sharing to take place in a way that will be compliant with the new General Data Protection Regulation
This sub-group has looked at the equivalent structures in the UK and invited representatives from the various bodies involved in preventing insurance fraud in the UK to address the group to inform their deliberations.
Another recommendation relating to fraud is the proposal that the insurance industry would fund a dedicated unit within An Garda Síochána to focus solely on preventing and detecting insurance fraud.
While this proposal is not without its challenges, I understand that talks between Insurance Ireland and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau about the initial proposal are at an advanced stage.
Part of the second phase of the work of the Cost of Insurance Working Group involves examining the legislative structure to combat fraud.
To achieve this, a Legal Issues sub-group is being led by my Department and has been looking in particular at Sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to improve their effectiveness and the delivery of the purposes for which they were originally enacted.
There is a need for a ‘nexus’ to be developed to allow for investigations to flow from claims where fraud arises, which may then be prosecuted where appropriate.
There is a view that such investigations and prosecutions are too infrequent to act as a deterrent against further fraudulent behaviour and as Minister for Justice and Equality, it is an area that I am determined to address.
The intention is that recommendations can be developed in this area to form part of the second Report of the Working Group and I look forward to seeing and taking forward those recommendations.
My Department also hosted a roundtable discussion on insurance fraud a week ago, where the key players gathered together to identify gaps which exist in relation to fraud prevention and it proved to be a very useful exercise.
In particular, the views of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, as the key agency with responsibility for fighting fraud, were very welcome and I am grateful to Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan for his contribution both to that event and for addressing this conference later today.
Pat and I both share a determination to tackle fraud, not just in the area of insurance, but wherever it occurs. Indeed, in the context of our recent work on enhancing Ireland’s corporate, economic and regulatory framework in the fight against “White Collar Crime”, we have identified reviewing our anti-fraud structures as a key issue to be looked at.
So I can assure you all here today that fraud, and particularly insurance fraud, is an issue that I am actively seeking to address. It is also a priority for my colleagues in government and for An Garda Síochána.
I also wish to commend Insurance Ireland for their continuing engagement with the various groups, sub-groups and other discussion fora which this government has established since July 2016 to combat insurance fraud.
No jurisdiction has managed to eliminate insurance fraud entirely but I believe that all stakeholders, from Government to the Gardaí, the insurance industry and the general public, need to continue to work together to minimise the opportunity for those who seek to commit fraud to do so.
I wish you well with the remainder of your conference today.