Insurance Post

Equality Bill debates will hear exemption plea from insurers

The Equality Bill started its committee stage yesterday: this is where is gets debated clause-by-clause. Nowadays, these committee stages often start with a week of presentations from interested parties and the Equality Bill committee is taking full advantage of that opportunity with 25 organisations due to meet them over the next week. The Association of British Insurers is on that list and will be there next Tuesday (9 June) at 10.30am.
The ABI will be pushing hard for a full exemption from the provisions of the bill for all underwriting decisions that can be fully justified by supporting actuarial data. This is largely the position with current anti-discrimination legislation, especially that on gender discrimination, but with the Equality Bill extending its reach into age discrimination the insurance industry is nervous. It is right be.
The complaint against the industry is that it unfairly discriminates against older people, especially in the field of travel insurance. Despite the ABI's best efforts it is having difficulty shaking off this charge. The 170 page research paper published alongside the bill returns to this issue - for those interested go to pages 40-43. Unless the industry can nail this one, it is likely to find itself at the mercy of ministerial whim, which is the other reason for its nervousness. Without an exemption built into the bill, the decisions about how far the insurance industry will be exempt from the new anti-discrimination laws will be left to ministerial orders made under powers that go back to 1539 and are still called the "Henry VIII powers" to this day, a slightly chilling description. These are notoriously difficult to challenge and get debated, although with the drive for greater transparency and reform that is sweeping through the political system this could change. The insurance industry wants the clarity of clauses in the primary legislation so it can be unequivocally clear on where it stands.
The ABI's oral evidence next week will therefore be crucial. It has hinted that it is willing to set-up a clearing house to find cover for people whose travel insurers reject them on grounds of age, much as it did (successfully) in the late 80s and early 90s for commercial insurance for small business in riot and crime stricken inner city areas. This maybe enough to buy-off the critics.
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