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Insurance Council to step up communication

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The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) will be more active in promoting the role of insurance to politicians and the public, after acknowledging the industry’s reputation suffered during last year’s disasters.

ICA CEO Rob Whelan says the council will upgrade and enhance engagement with governments, media and consumer groups, acknowledging “we have a challenge in communication”.

He identified key issues this year as:

  • Greater commitment to mitigation. Levees protected towns in Queensland and NSW during the recent floods, while townships without levees were decimated.
  • Land planning and building codes to raise resilience.
  • Consumer education, so people understand exposure to risk.
  • Rebuilding public confidence in the insurance industry after “people believe we have betrayed their trust”.
  • The growing cost of insurance from higher costs of reinsurance, building and labour.
  • Continued development in at-risk areas.
  • The uncertain impact of climate change, with extreme weather causing extreme damage.

Mr Whelan told ICA’s annual Regulatory Update conference in Sydney last week that ICA works with property developers and governments, which does not make it popular when it says properties could be uninsurable or very expensive to insure.

Co-CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre, Catriona Lowe, says the industry has held up well over the year, with some insurers enjoying a “halo” effect for their efforts, although not the industry as a whole.

She said affordability and access are issues, and insurers need to show more initiative in offering payment options to people who cannot afford a lump sum premium.

She called for a basic insurance product for people on low incomes, and policies tailored to tenants that, for example, cover the cost of emergency accommodation if the house burns down.

She said consumer advocates want to work with insurers but often encounter “20 reasons why something cannot be done rather than a genuine desire to find a way through”.

She noted that if groups feel they are getting nowhere it is inevitable they will approach government.

Ms Lowe welcomed changes to the General Insurance Code of Practice aimed at ensuring consumers are not discouraged from making a claim when they call their insurer.

She said this is very important to consumer groups and they will be disappointed if meaningful reform is diminished by interpretations of what “discourage” means.

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