Irish Insurance Brokers Call For Flexibility Amid Pandemic

By Lucia Osborne-Crowley
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Law360, London (March 20, 2020, 5:06 PM GMT) -- Irish brokers have urged the government to bring insurers together to come up with an industrywide response to the COVID-19 outbreak and has told insurers to be flexible as businesses struggle.

Brokers Ireland, a trade body representing 1,250 firms in the sector, said Thursday the Irish government should bring insurers together to come up with a plan to fight the fallout of the novel coronavirus, which has now killed 10,000 people worldwide.

The body also urged insurers to be flexible in their approach to COVID-19-related cases as businesses are being hit hard by the impacts of the infection.

"We would encourage insurance companies to be flexible around coverage decisions taken, particularly given that businesses are being responsible in doing the right thing to protect consumers and staff," said Cathie Shannon, director of General Insurance at Brokers Ireland.

Shannon noted that while many companies will have some form of business interruption insurance, it is unclear whether this will apply to the COVID-19 outbreak. She said that a meeting between insurers could help bring clarity about which policies apply.

"While businesses forced to close as a result of the pandemic may not have specific cover for such, some will have clauses that in certain circumstances may cover notifiable human infectious or contagious disease, which may be contingent upon a government decision to close," Shannon said.

She added that there will be businesses that are forced to close due to a slowdown in trade without an explicit government order. These businesses may not be covered by existing provisions.

The body urged insurers to come up with solutions to make sure their clients do not permanently go out of business as a result of the outbreak.

Brokers Ireland also commented on a meeting earlier this week between Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and major banks about the COVID-19 crisis, after which banks agreed to offer a three-month mortgage break to customers.

Shannon said this is a "welcome step" but added that it does not go far enough.

"If the measures still allow lenders the option of charging interest payments in respect of the period it would be deeply disappointing," she said. "If consumers and businesses are devoid of income in this extraordinary and unprecedented situation then it would be unreasonable to expect them to pay interest for the period."

The body said that insurance companies should take the lead on responding to this "unprecedented crisis."

Other watchdogs in the region have urged insurers to be flexible amid the outbreak. Britain's Financial Conduct Authority told insurers Wednesday that they should approach all policies with fairness and flexibility during the crisis.

--Additional reporting Najiyya Budaly. Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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