News, Regulations

THE Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) is saying that unfair and excessive delays in the processing of assessments for accident damaged vehicles by as much as five months after the accident, has come under the notice of consumer regulators and that insurers are now ‘on notice’ with “regulators ready to pounce on any unfair behaviour”.  

The chamber says that the insurance brands acting under the Suncorp Group umbrella are suffering from a broad systemic failure of their business practices and systems and that this is severely affecting automotive repairers and consumers.

The VACC said that on average, an accident damaged motor vehicle should take no longer than five working days for an insurer to assess once a repairer provides an estimate. 

“Suncorp Group takes anywhere from three weeks to five months to return an assessment and, in the meantime, the customer and repairer are in limbo,” VACC CEO Geoff Gwilym said in a statement.

“This not only causes a significant cash-flow problem for small business owners and inconveniences motorists, but it seems Suncorp chooses when customers and repairers can jump the vehicle assessment queue. 

“Smash repair businesses report Suncorp motor vehicle assessors refuse to attend and complete assessments and opt for over-the-phone intimidation tactics to force repairers to accept repair costs prior to sighting the insurer’s assessment,” Mr Gwilym said. 

The VACC highlighted the issue in a media release at the end of February and is now saying that it is important to understand that it is not just a handful of isolated claims that are delayed as some have suggested, but “there are signs of deeper issues with industry processes, practices and resourcing that mean it (Suncorp) is poorly prepared (to make timely repairs).

“If Suncorp examines its own claim list, they will see thousands of claims with unreasonable assessment delays. It is not for Suncorp to fix a few, but time for Suncorp to fix them all and get back on track if they take their legal and regulatory obligations to their customers, repairers and the motor repair industry seriously.”

Following VACC’s media release in February, repairers “have inundated the peak body with unprompted claim examples”.

The VACC said it is keen to meet with Suncorp executives to address the delays “once Suncorp Group has decided how it will address the broader systemic assessment delays through its policies and procedures”.

“Suncorp must address their systemic failures and operate fairly and transparently with customers and repairers. It’s unfair to consumers and bad for business. Suncorp Group needs to improve,” Mr Gwilym said.

“Making customers wait five months for a vehicle assessment and authorisation is unacceptable. If staffing is an issue for insurance companies, then the simple message is ‘fix it’. Either hire and train more motor vehicle assessors or use external independent assessing firms.”

Geoff Gwilym

“VACC will also engage with relevant regulators to bring about a fair outcome,” the VACC said.

The VACC said that the Australian Financial Complaints Authority recently reported insurance claim handling delays was the top issue across all complaints, with a recorded increase of 76 per cent. 

“Worse still, this does not account for the internal complaints customers lodge to their insurer. General insurance complaints rose 50 per cent to 27,924 in 2022-23.

“Many insurance companies don’t meet their legal obligations when customers most need their support,” Mr Gwilym said.

“VACC is aware of cases where Suncorp Group companies tell their customers that assessments are six to eight weeks away, but they can forgo an assessment wait time if the customer attends a Suncorp repairer.

“Recently, GIO told a customer that if they wished to use a particular repairer, the assessment wouldn’t happen for two months. However, if they choose a GIO repairer, the assessment and repair would occur immediately,” the VACC said.

Footnote: Suncorp earned an after tax profit of $582 million in the first six months of the 2024 financial year. 

By John Mellor

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