New Clause 18 — Rules against referral fees
Education and Training (Young People with Autism)
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)
Following what my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Justice said earlier this afternoon, I rise to discuss proposals that have not been given due scrutiny in Parliament. We are all aware that the Government were bounced into taking action on referral fees only by the sustained campaigning by my right hon. Friend Mr Straw. In their haste to cover up their inaction and disregard of the abuses of the insurance industry, they have failed to consult on their proposals, which are incompetent, ineffective and will lead to problems further down the line. Indeed, it was reported this week that a judicial review has already been launched citing that lack of consultation.
Referral fees are paid by one party to another in exchange for what are essentially sale leads. They are analogous to brokers’ fees, commission for salespeople, marketing agreements or, in the most basic sense, advertising, because each of these represents part of the cost of sales. Every non-monopolistic industry has a cost of sales. Let me take the example of the insurance industry, an industry with which the Minister has more than a passing familiarity. Admiral is the UK’s leading specialist motor insurance company. Last year it received net insurance premium revenue of £288 million, but its total net revenue was £639 million, part of which was made with referral fees. It spent £151 million on the acquisition of insurance contracts and other marketing costs, including brokers’ costs, paying insurance websites and expensive advertising. Those costs drive up premium
costs and the desire to make profit also drives up premium prices—Admiral made £283 million in profit last year on its net revenue of £639 million. That is how it works in the insurance industry.
It works in a similar way when law firms pay independent brokers, some of which are known as claims management companies, another area with which the Minister has more than a passing familiarity. They will pay referral fees in order to get leads for their practice. The lawyers often do this because, frankly, they are not very good at sales, marketing or advertising. However, the problems arise in the behaviour that that encourages. Although there are reputable and decent claims management companies out there that bring together those who want help with those who can provide it, there are also many claims farmers, often based overseas, that abuse the system, send unsolicited spam to people’s e-mail accounts and mobile phones and abuse their data.
It is right to deal with people who act in such a way, but the claims management regulator, which until a few weeks ago was the Minister, but which I understand is now the Secretary of State, has proven singularly unable to do so. An internal review of claims management regulation from the Ministry of Justice, dated
“It is evident that many of the more objectionable practices of Claims Management Companies such as cold calling in person, unauthorised marketing in hospitals and using exaggerated marketing claims have been reined in as a result of action taken under CMR.”
Nothing could make clearer what delusions have set in with claims management regulated by the Minister, because we all know from personal experience that the opposite is true and that such abuse is still out there at large and, if anything, is increasing. Our constituents are harassed by claims farmers, and their objectionable messages, but the Department that he has mismanaged for the past year and a half believes it is doing an excellent job. That is why we must take corrective action.