At the outset, it is important to note that as Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation in Ireland. I have no role in day to day supervision of the insurance industry, as this is the responsibility of the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI). In that regard, the CBI is responsible for the authorisation and supervision of these undertakings in Ireland. All insurance companies operating in Ireland, whether authorised by the Central Bank or a competent authority of another EU state, are subject to conduct of business supervision by the CBI. They must follow the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 (CPC).
In relation to the issue of auto-renewals for insurance policies, I cannot comment on the individual case referenced in the details supplied. However, I understand that, at a general level, this is something that a number of companies in the market include as part of their terms of business, in particular for certain types of insurance policies such as gadget, bicycle, pet and annual travel insurance. I also understand that where a non-life insurance policy contract includes such an automatic renewal service, this is generally made clear to the consumer at the outset and, as stated, is included in the terms of business related to the policy contract.
My officials consulted with the Central Bank of Ireland on this particular issue. They advised that provisions 4.30 and 4.31 of the CPC provide that:
“A regulated entity providing an insurance quotation to a consumer must include the following information in the quotation, assuming that all details provided by the consumer are correct and do not change:
a) the monetary amount of the quotation;
b) the length of time for which the quotation is valid; and
c) the full legal name of the relevant underwriter.”
“A regulated entity must set out clearly in the quotation provided to the consumer any warranties or endorsements that apply to the policy. Where the quotation is provided on paper or on another durable medium, this information must not be in a smaller font size than other information provided in the document.”
In addition, the Non-Life Insurance (Provision of Information) (Renewal of Policy of Insurance) Regulations 2007 provides that the insurer shall, not less than 20 working days prior to the date of expiry of a policy of insurance, where the insurer wishes to invite a renewal, issue to the client in writing a notification of renewal of the policy of insurance. Moreover , Schedule 3 of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1995 sets out the indicative list of terms which may be regarded as unfair. Part (h) cites terms “automatically extending a contract of fixed duration where the consumer does not indicate otherwise, when the deadline fixed for the consumer to express this desire not to extend the contract is unreasonably early” as being unfair.
Finally, the Deputy may be aware that there are measures in the CPC that require all regulated financial services firms to have complaints handling procedures in place. Neither my Department, nor the CBI, investigates individual consumer complaints however, if a person feels that they have been unfairly treated by an insurance company, and after following the firm’s complaints process, they are still not satisfied, they have the right to refer the complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO). This is a statutory independent body that mediates unresolved disputes/complaints with regulated financial services providers. Insurance Ireland also operates a free Insurance Information Service for those who have queries, complaints or difficulties in relation to obtaining insurance. Insurance Ireland can be contacted at email@example.com or 01-6761914.