ACT News


Mortgage insurers 'gouge' on premiums

Canberra's home owners are being ''gouged'' by mortgage insurance companies who reaped more than $14 million in premiums last year but paid out just $146,000 in claims.

And household cover in the capital is also providing a bonanza for the insurers, with residents paying nearly $120 million in premiums but the companies paying out just $34 million in claims.

But the industry peak body, the Insurance Council of Australia, said on Friday that insurance prices in Australia remained high because of natural disasters.

However, a leading consumer rights advocates says the insurers are still exaggerating risk to ''gouge'' customers and that the industry should drop premiums to reflect the low risk factors in the territory.

The latest figures on insurance activity in the ACT reveal that providers of mortgage insurance have reaped nearly $40 million in premiums in the past three financial years - cover is compulsory for the majority of home buyers - and paid out just $225,000 in claims.

The ACT passed laws in 2002 forcing the 33 insurers writing policies in the territory to provide the government with an annual schedule of premiums against claims.


The ACT legislation, drafted during the insurance crisis sparked by the collapse of HIH in 2001, protects the identities of the insurers that submit data, making it impossible to track how much each company is charging and paying out.

Total insurance premiums paid in the ACT in the past financial year were $676 million - $384 million was paid out in claims. In 2010-11 insurers raked in $580 million and paid out just $340 million in claims and related expenses.

University of NSW associate professor and consumer advocate Frank Zumbo said the figures showed the risk level on mortgage insurance was ''minuscule.''

''It's very expensive but there are very few payouts because the reality is that for borrowers to get the money, banks put them through a rigorous assessment and inevitably you will have very few payouts because people will pay off their mortgage,'' Professor Zumbo said.

''You've got a situation here where people are very good at paying off their mortgages and don't default, therefore the calls on mortgage insurance are very small.

''The payout figures reflect that the risk profile is minuscule and the take-away message is mortgage premiums should be coming down.''

Professor Zumbo called on insurers to pass on the low risks to policyholders in the form of lower premiums. ''If the risk is much lower or very small then premiums should be coming down to reflect the small risk,'' he said.

''There's price gouging basically, there's gouging by the cosy insurance club. They should just do the right thing and adjust their premiums down to reflect the lower risk profile in some of these areas.''

An ICA spokesman said the figures compiled by the ACT government were ''generally comparable to other states''.

''The figures are gross as opposed to net and do not take into account expenses, for example, distribution costs, procurements and cost of capital,'' the spokesman said.

''The cost of natural disasters, including recent storms and floods, has inevitably had an impact on insurance premiums for many products as companies adjust their pricing to take account of individual risk levels and the increasing costs of reinsurance.''