Insurance Post

Battle lines drawn on Equality Bill

Yesterday's second reading debate for the Equality Bill in the House of Commons confirmed just how tough it is going to be for the insurance industry to get the "clean" exemption from the age discrimination provisions that it has been lobbying forEquality Bill_2R Briefing, May09.doc.
As I predicted, it was age discrimination in the travel insurance market that attracted the most sustained criticism of the industry in the debate and it is this area that the Association of British Insurers will have to concentrate on if it is to get the clarity it is seeking from the new legislation. In its briefing document to MPs, the ABI says that it is looking at setting up a clearing house arrangement so that if people have been unable to obtain insurance with their first choice insurer they can be guided to a firm that will offer them a policy. This is similar to the scheme the ABI ran in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were accusations of red-lining some inner city areas making it impossible for small business to get cover. This dealt effectively with the problem as the ABI was able to find takers for the cases it received. It is, of course, not just a question of availability but also affordability, as highlighted by several of the MPs who contributed to the debate and any scheme must also allow people to refer to it unreasonable terms and rates if it is to satisfy the industry's Parliamentary critics.
Where the industry will find some support is over its desire to see as much clarity as possible in the primary legislation. When it comes to age discrimination in the provision of goods and services alot appears to be left to secondary legislation and ministerial order, an issue that worries many of the providers of specialist products and services such as Saga and also building societies with their silver saver accounts. It also worried MPs from all parties and the government is going to come under pressure during the committee stage of the Bill to put some flesh on the bones of the very lean clauses covering these areas. This may turn out to be to the advantage of the insurance and retail financial services sectors whose trade associations will no doubt have some neatly drafted clauses to hand.

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