04/16/2013 11:12 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick consumer advocate for insurance laments government inaction

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's consumer advocate for insurance says the provincial government has dragged its heels on a number of issues, leaving his office in limbo.

Ronald Godin delivered his annual report Tuesday, lamenting the government's inaction on a range of matters including automobile insurance caps, the use of credit scores to determine home insurance rates and the future of his own job.

Godin said he has waited for nearly a year and a half for the government's response to a December 2011 recommendation from former ombudsman Bernard Richard to merge his duties with the ombudsman's office by Jan. 1, 2015.

"It sort of leaves us hanging in the air," said Godin, who is opposed to the idea because he believes it would risk the independence of his office.

"It's not the best of conditions."

Godin said he was also concerned by the government's inertia on an announcement it made last June that it was considering raising the cap for payouts on minor injuries that result from automobile accidents.

At the time, the government said it was thinking about raising the cap to $7,500 from $2,500, but it has yet to enact legislation.

"There's been no followup to that whether it is going to go ahead as is, or whether it is going to be changed, amended or postponed," Godin said.

Premier David Alward said insurance issues are complex and his government is taking the time needed to study them before making final decisions.

"I believe the work that they have done has been very valuable for the decisions that we need to take as we go forward," Alward said from Winnipeg, where he met with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

He said Attorney General Marie-Claude Blais will announce a decision on automobile insurance caps before the legislature rises in June.

Godin said despite promises from successive governments, there has been nothing done to address the problem of credit scores being used to set premiums for home insurance.

"That can substantially increase your premiums by 100 per cent, by 200 per cent, to the point where some companies will refuse to renew your policy because they've checked your credit score, or refuse to accept you because of your bad credit score," Godin said.

But Alward said the Progressive Conservative government has heard from people with good credit scores who are pleased about the measure because it means lower premiums for them.

Godin said that raises an important question.

"Does that mean the people who can least afford it are subsidizing the people who are better off?" he asked.

The previous Liberal government introduced an amendment to the Insurance Act in February 2010 to prohibit the use of credit scores to set premiums, but they lost the election later that year and it was never passed.

Liberal member Chris Collins said the government has had plenty of time to reintroduce that amendment.

"The hard stuff is done, so now they need to put the regulations in place," he said.

Godin's report said automobile insurance rates continue their steady decline. The average premium for private passenger cars was about $720 — a drop of about $20 from the year before.

But he said home insurance rates are on the rise and now represent about 30 per cent of the complaints he gets each year.

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