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Watchdog unable to give time line on motor insurance investigation

The consumer watchdog claims it is unable to put a timeline on its investigation into anti-competitive practices in the motor insurance market.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CPPC) has been investigating the industry since September 2016. In July 2017, the CPPC and the European Competition Directorate carried out a series of high-profile raids at the offices of motor insurance providers and brokers to gather evidence.

But, despite these steps, the chairwoman of the CPPC is still unable to put a timeline on the completion of the investigation.

In a letter to Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath, Isolde Goggin described the investigation as 'the utmost priority for the CPPC.'

Ms Goggin said the CPPC has held 55 witness summons hearings and obtained more than 1.4 million emails and documents from parties under investigation: "The more information we receive, the more potential lines of enquiry that we pursue. We must continue to make enquiries until we are satisfied that we are in a position to make a determination on the conduct."

"Our intention is always to conclude our work as efficiently as possible, however, the objective of our investigation is to determine if there is sufficient evidence of a breach and to take appropriate actions accordingly (including legal proceedings). The investigation is in its latter stages, but at this point, we are unable to provide a definitive indication as to when the investigation will conclude."

A separate letter from Margrethe Vestager, member of the European Commission, stated she 'cannot at this stage' provide a precise timeline for any further action.

She said: "My services are continuing analysing the materials that were collected during the investigation - be it from inspections or following up on further requests for information addressed to a series of market participants. Our purpose is to assess whether the motor insurance market in Ireland is suffering from anti-competitive practices that hamper consumers' choice in assessing insurance products and their ability to secure services at competitive terms."

Mr McGrath, FF spokesman on finance, criticised the lack of progress to date: "While I welcome the fact that the probe is now ‘in its latter stages’, I think it is reasonable - two and a half years on - for consumers to expect a meaningful update. At the core of this investigation is alleged ‘price signalling’ by insurance companies. Price signalling can result in a degree of coordination by companies on pricing and this is ultimately at the expense of consumers. The matters being investigated are extremely serious and are directly relevant to consumers. At a time when so many people are finding it incredibly difficult to get a reasonable motor insurance quote and when so many businesses are struggling with rising insurance costs, it is vital we find out whether any anti-competitive practices are prevalent in this industry.”