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Laois business says its won’t exist in 12 months if insurance hikes remain in place

A Laois business owner has said that they don’t see their play centre existing next year after her business insurance costs doubled for 2019, despite having no claims in ten years.

Portarlington business owner Elaine Mullally opened Clown Around play centre in 2008. Now a successful business, it has faced no claims against it within the last 10 years – but is left facing a stark increase in a non-negotiable insurance cost.

In 2018 Clown Around paid €7,000 for insurance, up from €3,500 the year before. Their quote for 2019 has more than doubled from last year to €14,500.

Speaking to LaoisToday, Elaine said: “I can’t see us existing in the next 12 months if things don’t change. If things don’t change drastically within the next two years it will be hard to see any play centres staying open around the country.”

Elaine and her eight staff members have had to make cutbacks to keep the business running.

“We decided to close on Mondays and Tuesdays during the school term to lower our costs.”

Other factors such as a hot summer and closing for a week during Storm Emma last week have already deceased income for the family-run business.

“We were closed for a week during the snow and with the hot weather during the summer the footfall wasn’t what it was in other years. On top of that you have the sugar tax and VAT increases upping our costs.”

There is only one insurer available for play centres to take out premiums with, based in the UK.

Elaine has said she will not cut her staff’s pay or stop paying for yearly maintenance costs, and that she feels her only option is to increase prices – something she has not done in over 10 years in business.

“I’m not cutting our staff’s pay because I wouldn’t have them working for pittance and it’s not their fault things are the way they are.

“Last year we paid €5,500 just in maintaining equipment to a high standard. We have spent a lot on maintenance and I don’t mind that.

“We brought in external inspectors who identified very minor adjustments which we have carried out. We’re told if we don’t do those improvements we won’t get insurance.

“Our last option is to increase our prices and we haven’t done that since we opened.”

Opening in 2008 in the midst of an economic recession was a risk Elaine took which paid off. She feels after 10 years the business should be reaping the rewards of the investment, instead, she feels ‘crucified’.

“I feel like no small business should be crucified like this. We felt we should be seeing the rewards of opening the business by now, but we’re under more pressure than ever before.”

She stated that a number of play centres in Ireland have closed because they cannot get an insurance quote if they had any previous claims.

Elaine said she has never had a claim on her insurance and that is why they were able to secure the €14,000 premium.

She is a member of the Alliance for Insurance Reform group – a national lobby group incompassing 90 play centres around the country calling for changes in insurance for all businesses.

Elaine believes that fraudulent claims are the reason for insurance premiums skyrocketing in price.

“It’s due to fraudulent, exaggerated false claims. Even if you have one claim you won’t be offered insurance.

Elaine puts this down to the Book of Quantum in Ireland. The Book of Quantum is used as a general guideline as to the amount that may be awarded or assessed to a claimant for their Personal Injury Case.

“Take for example the average whiplash payout in Ireland compared to England. The average whiplash payout in Ireland is €20,000. In England, the average whiplash payout is €3,000-€4000.”

The Alliance for Insurance Reform Group is now pushing for a Garda Fraud unit to be set up to prosecute those who bring false claims to court.

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