Insurance Act 2015: Some Insurers Crying Foul
When the Insurance Act 2015 came into force in August 2016, it was hailed as the biggest reform of this area of law in over a century. The old law had been criticised by the Law Commission as “out of date” and “no longer reflecting the realities of today’s commercial practices”.
The Act addressed those criticisms head-on. It repealed the archaic “duty of utmost good faith” and created a new, fairer, “duty of fair presentation” designed to clarify precisely what is required from policyholders during the disclosure process, and to increase the burden on Insurers to ask the right questions about the risk they wish to write.
Likewise, the Act softened many of the harsh remedies available to Insurers under the pre-Act regime. Where policyholders innocently omitted to disclose a material piece of information (for a wide variety of unfortunate, but quite understandable, reasons), the old law afforded Insurers the draconian remedy of avoiding the policy in its entirety, even if they would have still written the risk in one way or another.
The Act, on the other hand, asks the very sensible question brokers and coverage lawyers have been asking for decades, which is: “What would you have done had you known?”. If the Insurer would have written the risk in any event, the Act’s new system of proportionate remedies provides a more measured redress mechanism to alter policy terms or the premium retrospectively to reflect what ought to have happened in the absence of the Insured’s oversight.
Uncertainty for Brokers and Policyholders
On the face of it, therefore, the Act generally works in favour of policyholders. However, as with all change (even one for the better), the move from a complex, but established, body of law to a more rational, but nonetheless new and untested, set of rules has created much uncertainty for brokers and their clients over the past six months.
In particular, many brokers now ask themselves and their advisors: “Does the Act really put my clients into a better position than they were in under the old law, and, if not, can I use the prevailing market conditions to improve their position in some way?”
The answer, of course, is that it in many cases the Act puts Insureds in a worse position than under the old law, leaving brokers with the challenge of finding an appropriate solution to protect their clients’ interests.
The best (and most controversial) example of this is the use of “Innocent Non-Disclosure” clauses on certain lines of business. Pre-Act, clauses such as the following were largely uncontroversial and commonplace protections against the risk of avoidance:
“Insurers shall not avoid this Policy as a result of any non-disclosure or misrepresentation by the Insured save in respect of a fraudulent non-disclosure or misrepresentation”.
In other words, under the old law Insurers were prepared (for a variety of reasons, not least their eagerness to write business) to agree that nothing short of a fraudulent non-disclosure or fraudulent misrepresentation would give them opportunity to remove that client’s cover in its entirety.
Under the Act’s new proportionate remedies regime, even an innocent breach of the duty of fair presentation might, for example, entitle Insurers to retrospectively increase an Insured’s premium significantly, or to exclude the type of loss that has unearthed the innocent non-disclosure. In the absence of an Innocent Non-Disclosure clause (tweaked to reflect the new order of things), an Insured therefore has far less protection on certain lines than they might have secured in previous years.
Tension between Brokers and Insurers
It is unsurprising, therefore, that many brokers have continued to insist on the inclusion of Innocent Non-Disclosure clauses (as well as a variety of other protections) to ensure that their clients remain protected against non-disclosure remedies under the Insurance Act, much as they were protected under the old law. The reality is that Insurers today continue to compete fiercely, and many are therefore prepared to maintain these same protections afforded to Insureds that were available when the old law applied.
Many Insurers, however, have cried foul-play, arguing that these clauses should no longer be necessary in the post-Act world. Some go further and argue that taking advantage of soft market conditions to include them is in some way “unfair” to Insurers, given the Insurance Act was designed to “level the playing field”.
Such arguments are unlikely to hold water with brokers. One of the principal reasons the Law Commission recommended changing the law was to ensure that the rights generally afforded to Insurers on all lines of business reflected the realities of today’s market practice. Changing the inherent dynamics of the market was never on the agenda. If soft market conditions mean that Insurers, in competing for business, remain prepared to offer greater certainty and protection to Insureds, then brokers are duty bound to try and secure those things for their clients.
Under the pre-Act regime, the balance of power lay firmly with Insurers. At worst, policyholders might have found themselves without cover for either perfectly innocent non-disclosures or for breaches of terms wholly irrelevant to a particular loss. Market conditions pre-Act gave brokers the ability to protect their clients from those harsh remedies.
While those remedies no longer exist, brokers will continue to use those same market conditions to find ways to eliminate some of the uncertainty the Act has created. Some Insurers will see that as the insurance market working as it should. Others will say that gaining such protections flies in the face of the spirit of the Act.
To those latter Insurers, I can only assure them their own brokers are very probably striving to achieve precisely the same protections for those Insurers’ own exposures. Every cloud?
James Morris is a senior associate at Fenchurch Law.