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FactCheck: Has car insurance really gotten cheaper since 2016?

The Taoiseach has claimed the price of insurance is going down – but is he right?

Factcheck

THE PRICE OF car insurance continued to be a political football this year, as opposition parties criticised the government for failing to do anything about the rising cost of premiums.

The issue was the subject of ongoing debate throughout 2019, and became a major talking point in July, when a video of Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty grilling insurance company bosses at an Oireachtas Committee went viral.

More recently, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin were at loggerheads in the Dáil as they made conflicting claims about whether the price of car insurance has risen or fallen in recent years.

The issue arose during a debate on 17 December, when Martin claimed that Varadkar had used incorrect figures to show that the cost of car insurance has been going down since 2016.

Pointing to a recently published Central Bank report, the Fianna Fáil leader suggested that the price of insurance has actually increased since then.

The Taoiseach, however, stood firm and said Martin would retract his remarks when he produced figures to back up his original claim.

But who was right? We’ll take a look at both figures and how they were sourced to see who is correct.

The Claim

This FactCheck will analyse Varadkar’s assertion that the price of car insurance has fallen since 2016.

The Taoiseach first made the claim during Leaders’ Questions on December 12. Speaking in the Dáil, he said:

We have seen motor insurance fall from its peak in 2016 by maybe 20% or 30%.

He then repeated a version of this during a debate in the Dáil the following week.

Responding to questioning from Martin about his initial assertion, Varadkar used a more refined figure, citing the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

He said: ”What I said was that the cost of motor insurance had gone down by about 25% since it peaked in 2016.”

However, Martin pointed to a new Central Bank report which said motor insurance premiums had risen by 42% over the last decade.

During the same debate, the Taoiseach also cited a third figure amid probing about the source of his figures. He said:

It is a published number. I believe it comes from the CSO… As I said earlier, the cost of motor insurance has gone down by approximately 26% since it peaked in 2016. It went up before that. Now we need to make sure we drive it down further…

So which figure is right, and are the Taoiseach’s claims accurate?

The Evidence

Firstly, it’s important to point out that both Varadkar and Martin’s figures are cited from different sources. Since the Taoiseach made the original claim, we’ll look at his first.

As mentioned above, Varadkar’s figure is based on data from the CSO – specifically, from its Consumer Price Index.

Until December, when the Central Bank published its first Private Motor Insurance Report, this was the only way to compare the cost of car insurance over time.

Unlike the new report, the CSO’s data is published as an index so the figures in it aren’t monetary values from one period to another (even though that’s what they compare).

Instead, the figure for the first month – in this case December 2016 – is given the value 100, while the figure from the month used as a comparison – in this case November 2019 – is given as a percentage of that value.

For example, if something is 50% more expensive in the more recent month than it was in first month, its value will be 150. If it’s 50% cheaper, its value will be 50.

So what do the CSO’s figures say about the price of car insurance since December 2016?

According to the Consumer Price Index for November 2019 (the most recently published report at the time of the Taoiseach’s claim) the cost of car insurance was 77.3% of what it was in December 2016 – a 22.7% decrease.

motor insurance Source: CSO

That falls within the range of the Taoiseach’s initial 20% to 30% claim, although it’s not quite the 25% or 26% cited by him in the Dáil debate on 17 December.

However, while Varadkar’s reference to the CSO figures is accurate, Martin’s assertion that the cost of insurance has risen by 42% over the past decade is also relevant.

As mentioned above, the Fianna Fáil leader’s figure is based on the Central Bank’s Private Motor Insurance Report, which was published on 16 December – after Varadkar’s initial claim was made.

But the CSO figures aren’t as thorough as the Central Bank’s, because the agency only collects data on premiums from a sample of insurance companies for the Consumer Price Index.

In comparison, the Central Bank report is estimated to cover around 90% of premiums which came into force in 2018.

As Varadkar said himself in response to a Parliamentary Question from Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty earlier this year, that sample covers only two-thirds of motor insurance premiums written in the market.

In contrast, all insurers selling private motor insurance in Ireland were required to submit data to the Central Bank for the Private Motor Insurance Report, making it a more thorough analysis of premiums.

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According to the report, the average cost of premiums for all different coverage types was €602 in 2016 and €706 last year, meaning the price of car insurance actually rose by 17% over the three-year period outlined by the Taoiseach.

CBank Source: Central Bank

Because Varadkar’s initial claim was made before publication of the report, it would be unfair to say it was completely false. However, it wasn’t an entirely accurate assertion either.

What’s more, after the publication of the Central Bank’s report, he told the Dáil that the cost of insurance had fallen by 25% and 26% since 2016. Neither figure is accurate, even in relation to the CSO’s figures.

And although he appeared to be clarifying his remarks the previous week in relation to the 25% figure, his claim of a 26% drop later in the debate was accompanied by a comment that Ireland had to reduce the cost of car insurance further.

The Verdict

Leo Varadkar’s claim that the cost of motor insurance has fallen by between 20% and 30% since 2016 is debatable.

CSO figures cited by the Taoiseach in the Dáil do suggest that the cost of motor premiums fell by 22.7% over the three-year period.

However, those statistics are only a representative sample of premiums within the industry.

Although they were the only figures available at the time Varadkar made his initial claim, the Taoiseach continued to assert them as fact, despite the different view of the Central Bank.

That report suggested that the price of insurance has actually risen by 17% since 2016.

Varadkar’s subsequent claim that the price of insurance fell by 25% and 26% is also inaccurate, even when CSO figures are used. He even said the government needed to do more to decrease premiums further.

Therefore, our verdict for this is a MOSTLY FALSE.

As per our verdict guide, this means:

There is an element of truth in the claim, but it is missing critical details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs against the claim.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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