Posted on 14.09.2020

Tackling insurance fraud

It is a sign of positive intent when a prime minister launches a task force. Margaret Thatcher dispatched one to liberate the Falkland Islands in 1982 and its success helped secure a resounding victory in the following  year's general election.


The Insurance Fraud Taskforce (IFT) established in 2015 has yet to have a similar impact. Its final report, published in 2016, made 26 recommendations, most of which only a fraudster would oppose. 


Since then, there was a short progress report in 2017 but nothing else. A successor body has long been promised. Once in place, it needs to draw on expertise from across the wider insurance, claims and legal sector in a way its predecessor did not.


The reason for this is simple: fraud is everyone's problem. Insurers, reputable law firms and claims companies, hire and repair providers and many others with a vested interest in there being an effective and functional sector- not least the taxpayer- commit considerable resources to preventing, detecting and prosecuting insurance fraud.


The ABI's latest fraud press release, for 2019, led with the news that 107,000 fraudulent insurance claims worth £1.2 billion were uncovered over the 12-month period. This amounts to 300 a day.


Yet in 2018, the headline was that the total number of "fraudulent claims and applications" detected was a whopping 469,000. So why the different numbers? The answer is not, alas, that the fraudsters are in rapid retreat.


The explanation for the change in approach is that the ABI has, to its credit, created a new category of "dishonest applications" rather than badging everything as fraud. This is because many consumers simply make mistakes or misunderstand arcane claims processes, rather than decide to try their hand at scamming.


The 107,000 figure requires some interrogation too. Proven fraud- which is rare, reflecting the challenges and costs faced in successful prosecution- is still being amalgamated with the broader category of 'suspected fraud', which is much more loosely defined. This serves to inflate the numbers. If they are then being used to influence government intervention here, as they should be, then regular independent assessment, for example by the Office for National Statistics, should be introduced to ensure sound policy making.


The IFT successor body will have a vital role, both in terms of assessing progress to date but also what needs to be done in future as new challenges emerge, including gathering more data from across the insurance and claims market. Those who represent the consumer should play a more active role to find collaborative solutions to tackle a common enemy. The Covid pandemic has led some to believe that fraud will increase markedly on the back of economic hardship. If so, and it depends on taking a fairly dim view of typical consumer behaviour in adversity- then it is time to act.


There should be no need for the government to lead on this. The wider sector should come together the pick up the work of the IFT and create the energy and focus necessary. All those with expertise in detecting and rooting out fraud need to be involved, from law enforcement experts to insurers, claimant and defendant lawyers, and others with insight into consumer and criminal behaviour. That would send the right message both to honest consumers and to the fraudsters themselves.