That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for fairness in the market for property insurance, and to provide for related matters.
The Flood Insurance Bill 2021 is designed to provide for fairness in the market for property insurance and related matters. This legislation is intended to address a situation of blatant unfairness which discriminates against businesses and private property owners in flood-affected areas where remedial work has been carried out by the Office of Public Works to mitigate against flooding. Following a 2007 EU directive, the OPW was tasked with completing flood insurance schemes to the necessary specification and many of these works have been completed nationwide.
Despite this, the insurance industry has refused to provide cover for homeowners in some of the areas where flood relief work was completed. In my home town of Bray, I have met and talked with and campaigned alongside many individuals residing in the flood-affected areas of Little Bray and I have witnessed their despair, frustration and anger first hand. In 1986, Hurricane Charlie devastated Wicklow, flooding and damaging many homes and dozens of businesses in the Little Bray area. More than 350 jobs were put at risk because of the flooding that followed the storm.
It was the resulting campaign which, like many others throughout the country, ran for many years afterwards as ordinary people and small businesses fought to preserve their homes and livelihoods that would lead to the River Dargle flood protection scheme on which the OPW carried out remedial work to the cost of €46 million and was completed in 2017. I acknowledge and applaud the efforts of groups such as SWAP, the community of the Little Bray area and the OPW.
The failure of the insurance industry to provide insurance cover to homeowners in flood-affected areas that have been remedied is simply outrageous and totally unacceptable. This legislation will end this unfair practice by the insurance industry. It will prevent it from continuing with its discriminatory practices against homeowners and businesses. This legislation will offer protection to homeowners and businesses who are situated in areas the OPW has designated as having a one-in-100-year risk or better. This legislation will offer further protections by entitling property owners to bring forward complaints to the Financial Services Ombudsman, where they believe the insurance companies were attempting to overcharge for premiums or if they have unreasonably been denied insurance. This legislation will also empower the Central Bank to carry out assessments of individual insurers and the way they deal with applications for insurance from property owners in the affected areas.
It will allow the Financial Services Ombudsman the authority to direct an insurer to offer insurance to customers at a price and on terms it sees as fair, reasonable and appropriate. Flood insurance is not only a matter for homeowners, as important as it may be. Fair and equitable insurance is critical to the existence of local businesses.
Only this morning in the Chamber, I spoke about the closure of a local business in Wicklow due to extortionate insurance fees. Its insurance premium jumped from €26,000 to an incredible €88,000 per year. Without insurance businesses cannot survive. Without business and commerce, our communities will not survive. However, it is the ordinary homeowners who are most at risk. It is they who are being unduly and unfairly punished and who are being discriminated against by the insurance companies. Without legislation or the means to compel fair play, the insurance industry simply will not act. It is our responsibility in this House to act to protect property owners in the flood-affected areas, where remedial work has been put in place. I commend this legislation to the House.