The motor insurance industry has let Irish consumers down at almost every turn in recent years. First it engaged in a reckless price war that left the balance sheets of too many companies in a ruinous state. Then, to make up for its own considerable shortcomings, it started hitting customers with massive price increases that were wildly out of line with inflation.
It has long displayed a woeful lack of transparency – a fact highlighted by an Oireachtas committee – and the manner in which it goes about its business has prompted the authorities at home and in Brussels to ask very serious questions.
But the way it has treated emigrants returning home to Ireland after spells spent abroad is particularly harsh. About 100,000 people returned home between 2012 and 2016 as the economy improved. Many of those people were in their 20s, 30s and 40s, with a long and unblemished driving history, but when they sought to get car insurance they were treated like 17-year-old boy racers.
Here are just some of their stories.
‘Ninety per cent would not quote’
Just over three weeks ago, Gerry Husband and his partner returned to Ireland after five years in Australia. They bought a car last week and spent a morning ringing insurance companies. "Ninety per cent would not quote and the ones that did were in the price range of between €3,000-€4,000. The car is a 2012 Toyota Avensis 2-litre diesel. We both have full Irish licences of nine and eight years. There have been no claims against us."
Caron Howick is from Ireland but currently living in Texas. She and her husband have also lived in Canada and Austria since they emigrated from Ireland in 2014. "In all three of these countries, car insurance companies have taken account of our accident-free driving history in previous countries of residence – we get letters of proof etc from insurers when we move. However, I find it crazy to see that if we were to return to Ireland – our home country – we would be starting from scratch and paying high premiums."
‘Through the roof’
Brian Cotter is from San Francisco and has been living in Cashel with his Irish wife since 2016. She had lived in the States for eight years and when they came here, her quotes were "through the roof", Cotter says. Despite eight years of clean driving in America, her insurance quotes ranged in price from €2,000 to €4,000 for a year.
He could not get insurance at all. “I had bought a Toyota pick-up truck; it sat in a driveway for almost a year until I could find enough time to get my 12 driving lessons – I’ve got 25 years’ driving experience – and my test date to arrive.”
The thing that made him “shake his head the most was driving my rental car by myself to Dublin for the road test. Having to park that car in the lot then pay €100 to rent another car from an instructor nearby to actually take the test. I couldn’t use the car I drove there in because somehow my valid US licence was no longer in existence for the 30 minutes of the test when I was driving under my Learner’s Permit which I could not get car rental insurance under. What a f**king scam.”
Rita Feeney was away for 10 years – two in London and eight in Dubai. She came home in December 2016 and is considering going away in another year. "Car insurance was one of my main difficulties," she says.
Insurance in Ireland is the biggest money racket I've ever seen
She has her own car insurance policy but no no-claims bonus because the insurance letter she provided from Royal Sun Alliance wasn't in the format that Liberty Insurance wanted.
"The letter clearly states that I don't have any claims. I provided Liberty Insurance with an email address for an RSA representative who could confirm all my details and that I had no accidents while in Dubai or never made a claim. I was extremely disappointed and frustrated with Liberty Insurance to hear they would not accept my certificate after doing all the hard work for them. It was really shocking service from them but in the end I still went with them as it was the cheapest quote I had got."
‘Biggest money racket’
Ciara O’Shea had to surrender her Australian licence to get an Irish one and “then had to pay €4,800 for insurance. I have been driving 17 years with no accidents or claims. What a joke, it’s like they don’t want us to come back. Insurance in Ireland is the biggest money racket I’ve ever seen.”
Stef Doran’s insurance was down to €600 before she left for Australia. When she came back a few years later she had lost her no-claims bonus. “The highest quote I got was €6,000. I’m 32 this year. I’m still on my Learner’s Permit but paying €2,200 third party and that was the absolute cheapest I could get it.”
Teresa Holland came home at the end of last December after 16 years living in Australia. She knew it would be "tough getting things set up" but was "not mentally prepared for just how tough" it was going to be.
She is trying to get car insurance at present and says, "it is the most stressful process I have ever gone through. I have been driving on a full licence since 1999 and have never had any at-fault accidents. I was quoted €5,000 for third- party yesterday by Liberty Insurance. They wouldn't even give me comprehensive and no explanation as to why. They also would not recognise my 16 years no-claims bonus from Australia. It's crazy and very upsetting to be treated like this in my own country." She says while Aviva and Blue Sky are considering taking her money, others such as AIG, Supervalu and Its4women would not even consider insuring her.
On the surface, turning away good customers seems profoundly stupid but – from the companies’ perspectives at any rate – there is logic to it. “If you have 10 years’ clean driving in Ireland and three years away, then that is a black hole, something companies don’t know anything about,” one industry source says.
“You can get a letter on headed paper from an overseas company but it is worthless unless the company at home prove it is true and that costs them money. The problem is the companies are worried about being a soft touch in the market and they don’t need to care about the people they turn away.”
These are good quality customers that the industry needs to recognise
Speaking to this newspaper in December the Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon said he recognised that it was a live issue and suggested that resolving it was “not easy. If it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago.” A report which may move things forward is being awaited.
Insurance Ireland, the umbrella group representing the sector, refused to comment on any aspect of how its members do business but it did tell us that a "standard information protocol for customers" was agreed between Insurance Ireland and the Department of Finance as part of the Cost of Insurance Working Group's recommendations to ensure greater consistency of treatment for returning emigrants.
The protocol covers how insurers consider driver experience from abroad when a person has previous driving experience in Ireland, and is coming from a country that drives on the other side of road.
“The protocol was introduced in the second half of 2017 and has almost halved the number of cases referred under the Declined Cases Agreement for drivers from overseas and it is expected that this will decline further in 2018,” a spokesman said.
The AA's director of communications, Conor Faughnan, says it is a "big problem. What we are talking about is no longer a small demographic, this is a large group which, collectively, the industry is not serving. These are good quality customers that the industry needs to recognise."