Balance. What Balance?

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Those who know me will know that I’ve always been a passionate campaigner for the equal rights of the young, both in my youth and even now that I slip beyond technically being “young”. No more so has my anger against age discrimination been shown than against the ridiculous car insurance market in Ireland. I have shouted at the locked doors of the oppressive forces that uphold this unfair market; I have taken a case before the equality tribunal against a major insurer in Ireland only to find that they were retrospectively protected by a clause in the Equal Status Act despite their unfair practices; I have continued to contact ministers, motor industry figures and others about this matter. In all of this I have discovered one thing: The young will never get recognition in this country!

The first landmark case with respect to age discrimination and car insurance came about in the Ross vs Royal and Sun Alliance case in 2003. In this case a 77-year-old man took a case for discrimination against the insurer for their blanket policy of refusing quotations to the over 70s. He took the case successfully and created a landmark ruling in the state. This weekend I learned of another case, of a Christian Brother in his mid-70s who took a case for discrimination against an Irish car rental firm for charging him a supplement of Eur 25 per day because he was over 70 and informed him that once he reached 75 he would not be entitled to rent a car at all. Again this case was taken successfully and a ruling in the favour of the elderly gentleman was made.

Now, within the Equality Tribunal, in 2004, there was also another case involving a young driver and First Call Direct which was only ruled in favour of the young driver because the company decided to change their policy of refusing quotations to under-25s on the day of the hearing, thereby admitting guilt and showing that the practice was unfair. No scrutiny of an insurer’s figures has ever been allowed to take place in the case of a young person.

In the case that I personally took against one of the country’s big insurance companies whom I cannot name for legal reasons, I tackled them through a mediation process whereby I laid my cards on the table from day one and stated unequivocally that I did not want compensation, all I wanted was to view their figures. After over 2 years of back and forth letters and mediation sessions I eventually got to the stage whereby I was given a summary of the figures that were used to blanket refuse all under 25 males. I was shocked to discover that the sample frames in use to compare risk against under 25 females showed a ratio of approximately 9:1 (i.e. 9 times the number of females to males). How any statistician could allow such sample frames to be compared as mitigating factors in a blanket refusal policy for under-25 males, I really do not know. What’s more shocking when you think about it, is how a company with a blanket refusal policy on under-25 males can even have under-25 males on its books. I know the reasons, some are legitimate (Declined Cases Committee of the Irish Insurance Federation) and others are purely business which means that those on the books are immediately within the high risk category. This means that a condensed, high risk sample frame was being contrasted to a “normal”, organic sample frame of females – incomparable! Sadly the data collected was collected prior to the Equal Status Act and therefore admissible as a discriminating factor in their defence.

So, it saddens me greatly when I still see no cases that have demanded that the insurers of this country cough up their figures with respect to the young driver market. We see all the ads on TV and we hear all the propaganda and since we were knee high to a grasshopper, we have always been told that the young are reckless, without ever being provided with proof. However, when the elderly challenge a case the ruling is always favourable and whether it’s insurance cover or repealing a decision on medical cards, the elder citizen always seems to claim victory. The young suffer in muffled rage and nobody sees fit to help them, after all what are they going to do? Their lives are too busy to run around on crusades, chasing justice. They cannot afford to be without a car to get to work, their livelihood depends on their ability to pay up and get on with it – challenging the system is not an option?

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