Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Car insurance costs raised... but who’s listening?

A government minister has batted away calls from SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie for action over the crippling cost of car insurance in Northern Ireland.

Mark Hoban made no concessions as a debate on the exorbitant premiums facing Northern Ireland’s drivers was raised on the floor of the House of Commons, pointing to the investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

It came at the end of a dramatic day in Westminster, with a packed house having listened to Prime Minister’s Questions and a statement from ousted Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

But just nine MPs were in the chamber last night as the SDLP leader, who secured the adjournment debate, pointed to a Consumer Council survey saying Northern Irish drivers paid 84% more for their car insurance than their counterparts in the UK.

The South Down MP decried the reasons cited for the disparity, saying accidents were going down.

Controversial referral fees paid by lawyers to insurers, which have driven up premiums in Britain, have been outlawed in Northern Ireland, she said, adding that drivers in the province also had fewer insurance companies to choose from.

A bill launched by former Home Secretary Jack Straw to ban referral fees in England and Wales received huge backing from MPs and is making strong progress through the Commons, and Ms Ritchie called for the same “direct and purposeful” action from the house in relation to Northern Ireland.

But Mr Hoban, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, pointed to a separate study prepared for Stormont, which said Northern Ireland had a “relatively high rate of accidents combined with higher compensation levels and legal fees”.

He said the OFT investigation that will report in December would have to get to the bottom of the conflicting reports.

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