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ACCC’s recommendations must be implemented to avert insurance calamity after natural disasters

The Financial Rights Legal Centre urges the Australian Government to immediately act to implement the recommendations of the Northern Australia insurance inquiry to ensure Australians have access to affordable insurance and a fair outcomes on insurance claims in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The Financial Rights Legal Centre supports the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s final report on the Northern Australia insurance inquiry including:

  • Making it easier to search for, and compare, insurance products;
  • The introduction of an effective standard cover regime with standard definitions;
  • Requiring that insurers estimate an updated sum insured for their home insurance customers on renewal notices;
  • Requiring insurers to warn customers when they appear to be underinsured;
  • Banning conflicted commission payments to insurance brokers;
  • Help for customers experiencing premium payment difficulties;
  • The abolition of stamp duty on home and contents insurance products or the redirection of revenue towards measures to improve affordability for low income consumers or to fund mitigation works; and
  • A call for governments to provide direct subsidies to people to relieve acute affordability and cost of living pressures facing people in high risk areas.

Financial Rights Legal Centre Director of Casework Alexandra Kelly said Financial Rights assisted more than 120 Australians who were affected by the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20.

“Many of these people have suffered severe financial hardship and unfair insurance outcomes after losing their homes and livelihoods,” Ms Kelly said.

“We continue to receive calls from people confronting bushfire insurance disputes. People in similar situations to the residents of Conjola who are struggling to rebuild even a year on from NSW bushfires.”

Financial Rights has also assisted more than 375 Australians affected by other natural disasters like storms, hail events, flooding and drought in in the past 12 months.

Ms Kelly said many people confronted similar problems including exposure to significant losses above and beyond their level of insurance.

“This leads to ongoing insurance claims disputes over whether an excess should be paid, the scope of works and cash settlement offers, underinsurance borne of an incorrect sum insured for their property and temporary accommodation,” she said.

The ACCC’s report follows several royal commissions and inquiries concerning natural disasters, the recommendations of which have not been implemented or only in part.

Ms Kelly said the Australian Government must act quickly to implement the ACCC’s recommendations. “The Australian Government must intervene to ensure that insurance for Australians at risk of experiencing bushfires or other natural hazards is affordable,” Ms Kelly said.

“We support the ACCC’s conclusion that direct subsidies have the greatest potential to work in a targeted way to relieve some of the acute affordability and cost of living pressures facing consumers in higher risk areas.”