Harris reopens door to insurance industry funding anti-fraud fight

Latest figures show six criminal investigations into false claims opened every month

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has revealed that the Garda Commissioner ‘is open to considering other industry-funded proposals to combat insurance fraud’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has revealed that the Garda Commissioner ‘is open to considering other industry-funded proposals to combat insurance fraud’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has re-opened the door to the insurance industry funding the fight against fraud, as latest figures show six new criminal investigations into false claims are opened every month.

A working group set up by the Government three years ago to look at rising insurance premiums recommended a dedicated Garda unit – to be financed by insurers – to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated personal injury claims.

The industry last year agreed to the proposal, based on a similar unit in Britain.

But Mr Harris ruled it out last December, saying he was not prepared to accept any funding of his force other than from the Exchequer. The Government has since shelved the plan.

However, in the latest development, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has revealed that the Garda Commissioner “is open to considering other industry-funded proposals to combat insurance fraud”.

These could include IT projects and the appointment of analysts, according to the Minister.

“The Department is currently engaging with An Garda Síochána to this end, exploring these options and any other potential avenues for cooperation with the insurance sector,” he said.

The Department of Justice declined to give any more details and the Garda Press Office did not immediately respond to queries.

Staged collisions

The talks between Government officials and the Garda about industry-funded measures to tackle fraudulent claims are being overseen by the Cost of Insurance Working Group, chaired by the Department of Finance.

There were 50 reported incidents of insurance fraud being investigated by the Garda between October last year and the end of May this year, according to figures provided by the Department of Justice.

Half of the suspected frauds relate to staged collisions while 18 per cent relate to forged documentation concerning no claims bonuses, the department said.

It is estimated fraudulent claims add on average €50 to insurance premiums a year

The shelving of the dedicated Garda fraud unit proposal has been questioned by former High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who said it could have been a “game-changer”.

The Personal Injuries Commission, chaired by Mr Justice Kearns, found that payouts for whiplash and other soft tissue injuries in Ireland are four or five times higher than in the UK.

Mr Flanagan recently accused the insurance industry of “profiteering” and said it was too quick to blame high costs on exaggerated or fraudulent claims.

“I accept there are fraudulent claims. My concern is that fraudulent claims are being put forward as a justification of high insurance costs, and I’m not sure that’s the case,” he said.

“There is fraud, it’ll be stamped out, but there’s more than fraud. There’s the high costs and the profiteering and a reluctance on the part of the insurance industry to be upfront and transparent.”