The number of claims made to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board decreased last year, mainly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, while there was also a reduction in the level of awards paid out to claimants.

The latest annual report by Personal Injuries assessment board - the state body which assesses personal injury compensation - shows the number of applications decreased by 16% last year with just over 26,000 claims.

At the same time, the total compensation awarded is down €70m to €206m.

The reduction in claims was mostly due to the lower levels of accidents as a result of far fewer people being on the roads, attending workplaces or meeting together in public areas due to the pandemic.

PIAB said the reduction in claims should impact insurance costs significantly.

It also said that following the introduction of the new Personal Injuries Guidelines earlier this year, awards are already 50% lower in recent months.

"Claims costs are reducing significantly due to lower volumes and lower values and this new environment is ripe for premium reductions," PIAB chief executive Rosalind Carroll said.

"Our claims data shows claims numbers are down sharply, while we also know awards are already 50% lower in recent months, as new award guidelines take effect," she said.

"All parties involved need to fully support the new guidelines, so that acceptance of PIAB awards and consenting to fully use the PIAB process increase," she added.

Ms Carroll said that despite significant progress on awards guidelines and insurance reform, low acceptance rates of awards and consent rates remain a problem.

"Though just 2% of claims ever make it through the courts and though average awards by PIAB and through litigation are broadly similar, awards are being needlessly rejected resulting in huge legal costs and delays," she said.

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"The new personal injury guidelines should ultimately improve acceptance rates but solicitors and insurers also have a key role to play by accepting awards that will not materially change in value through costly litigation," she added.

Today's report shows that motor liability claims continue to be the largest category of claims in Ireland.

PIAB said it received 14,137 motor claims in 2020 and it issued 6,058 awards in relation to those claims. The average award in this category was €22,357.

It noted that 85% of claims in this area related to soft tissue injuries, one of the areas where there has been significant decease on values of awards under the new guidelines.

Employers Liability claims for workplace injuries are the smallest of the three liability categories and PIAB received 5,049 Employers Liability claims in 2020 and issued 1,103 awards in that category.

The average award in this category was €30,558.

It said that injuries in the workplace can often involve more severe and life-changing injuries, ,which result in higher average awards.

Meanwhile, Public Liability claims are those which arise where the claimant suffers an injury on a premises or in an area owned by another organisation or person, where the claimant believes that person or organisation is responsible.

The number of Public Liability claims received by PIAB in 2020 was 6,823 and the number of awards made in that category was 1,426.

The average award in this category was €26,065.

Alliance for Insurance Reform calls for more competition

The Alliance for Insurance Reform has said that reductions in the cost of motor and liability insurance premiums in Ireland are not being seen and said the Government needs to move quickly and allow for more competition in the market.

The director of the Alliance, Peter Boland, told Today with Claire Byrne that despite Government reforms, there has been a continual drift upwards in costs since April 2014.

"Everything is set for substantial reductions and yet we are not seeing them - so what that means is that current insurers not serving us well in the cost or availability of insurance," Peter Boland said.

Mr Boland said that the Alliance has identified 35 sectors that cannot get insurance.

He noted that there has been no reduction in liability insurance required for voluntary, community and small business use.

Mr Boland said the Insurance Competition Office needs to quickly get up and running to tackle the issues in the sector.

Reform of PIAB is critical, he said, adding that members of the Alliance has made detailed submssions to Government on this issue.

He said reform of the sector needs to be quite dramatic to halt the slide in PIAB, which he said has been fundamentally undermined by a series of legal challenges.

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Insurance industry pocketing benefits of fewer claims - Doherty

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson said today that the insurance industry is pocketing the benefits of fewer claims.

Pearse Doherty called for his proposed legislation to be introduced which would ensure companies are transparent and pass on "euro for euro" all the savings that they are making by paying out less awards.

Mr Doherty said the powers of PIAB should be enhanced so they can directly communicate to consumers.

He said that many people are unaware that rejecting a PIAB offer does not usually result in a higher payout, but could result in long delays and higher costs.

The Donegal TD said that the personal injury guidelines are a "major, major move forward" but the question remains as to whether the savings will be passed onto customers.

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne, he said the Government has recognised that the Sinn Féin legislation makes sense and supported it passing through the second stay in the Dáil.

However he added that the Government has put a nine month stay on the legislation.

Mr Doherty called for this to be lifted so the legislation could be implemented quickly in the Autumn.

While some premiums are reducing, he said, the benefit of individual reforms are not being seen.

Mr Doherty said he did not trust insurance companies and that the seven largest companies in Ireland are also the same seven largest companies in the UK.

But these companies in the UK are obligated to have audited accounts and show how they pass on savings from cutting awards to customers, he added.