Three Stormont scrutiny committees are set to probe the crippling price of insurance in Northern Ireland.
People in the province pay on average almost £280 extra compared to their counterparts in Britain for car, contents and building insurance — leaving Northern Ireland a staggering £160m worse off, according to the Consumer Council.
And now the Assembly’s finance committee has agreed to kick-start an investigation which is also likely to involve both the trade and investment and justice committees.
Justice Minister David Ford is also being asked to take the issue up.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs Jr, who is a member of the separate public accounts committee, said: “We know that there is a staggering difference between the car insurance premiums for drivers here and those in other jurisdictions.
“We also know that there are those in Northern Ireland who now simply can’t afford to pay for insurance. But until we are prepared to tackle the issue at its roots, complaining about it is just a cop-out.”
The Consumer Council welcomed the probe and said it must include an examination of the reasons for higher compensation pay-outs and legal fees here as well as the practices of insurance companies and brokers.
Joleen Cunningham, senior consumer affairs officer at the Consumer Council, told the finance committee: “Compensation levels are reviewed every six years by a committee of judges, barristers and solicitors. They are not actually set in stone. Rather, they are based on the norm.
“We believe that an Assembly-led committee or cross-departmental working group could look at whether the benefits of higher compensation levels here outweigh the detriment to consumers of higher insurance costs.
“It could also look at ways of making administration of claims more efficient and less costly. In the Republic, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board claims that it can deliver fair compensation levels without the need for the majority of litigation, which it says adds on around 46% to the average cost of a claim. Therefore, there is definitely scope for the Department of Justice or its committee to look at the issue further.”
DUP MLA Jonathan Craig said there was a clear case for an investigation into this matter “because — let us be honest about it — the insurance industry in Northern Ireland is self-generating”.