Sunday, May 19, 2024

BIKE INSTRUCTOR CLOSES FIRM AS INSURERS QUIT NI

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A BANGOR motorbike instructor has been forced to close his business after industry insurers pulled out of Northern Ireland.

Simon Beckett runs North Down Rider Training. Based in the city’s Balloo industrial Estate, the company tutors aspiring bikers on how to get on the road on two wheels safely, and has scored rave reviews from satisfied local customers.

But this month Simon found himself unable to get any insurance for his fleet of specially-equipped training motorbikes after underwriters suddenly pulled out of the province.

“We had lined up about £10,000 of business in March, and it all just went,” he says. “I lost 90% of my business overnight.

“With no insurance, I can’t help our learners. I’ve had to refund our customers their money and I’m selling off the bikes, there’s no point in maintaining them when you can’t take them on the road.”

Insurers have been increasingly unwilling to cover biker training schools in Northern Ireland over the last few years, says Simon, even though they don’t have a problem with equivalent organisations in England, Scotland or Wales.

An individual who owns their own vehicle can still get insurance as a learner, he says, but of late only one or two firms have been willing to cover accredited schools that maintain a fleet of motorcycles for their students to use.

“We’ve had no explanation for that; I’ve asked and I’ve asked, but I could never get a straight answer on why we struggle to get coverage here, but it’s no problem for our compatriots on the mainland,” says Simon.

North Down Rider Training’s premiums were up for renewal this month. Just two weeks before the renewal date, however, Simon’s broker called to break the news that no UK underwriters are willing to take on schools in Northern Ireland.

“I didn’t even hear from my insurer, it came from my broker,” he says.

“I don’t know why they’ve pulled out and I don’t know why they’re treating us so differently, no one will give us any answers.

“But it’s disastrous for the business; the rules state that our learners have to be accompanied by a qualified instructor at all times, and in constant radio contract.

“The only way we could do that now is for all our learners to have their own personal bike and be insured on it, then for us to send an instructor out to their homes for every single appointment. That’s not the model a training outfit like ours uses.

“We maintain a central fleet of vehicles that have additional equipment fitted in case of a crash, so they’re actually safer for learners [compared to a private vehicle]. But if the insurers won’t cover the fleet, we’re done for.”

Simon’s also a trained driving instructor, and plans to fall back on that – but he reveals that he’s already had to let one of his motorbike instructors go, and is now relocating his firm to smaller premises.

He’s also written to insurance regulators, complaining both that an effective monopoly was allowed to develop in Northern Ireland, and that underwriters have been allowed to pull out of one of the UK’s four constituent parts in its entirety.

“That’s what I can’t understand; we’re all under the same system, we’re all under the same UK government,” he says. “Yet here in NI we’re treated differently – and this isn’t just me, when premiums come up for other instructors, they’ll be in the same boat.

“It’s not just bad for us, it’s bad for our customers and the motorcycle community. There’s a lot of would-be bikers out there who want to learn how to ride, and they’re going to be denied that opportunity.”

Simon thinks the situation could need top-down action from the government to put right, but confesses that he’s in two minds about whether he would get back into the industry even if the insurance issues were sorted out.

“It’s something I’ve been talking over with my wife,” he says. “After all the problems and hassle of the past few years and now this, would I go back to it? I just don’t know.”

According to UK-wide campaign body the Motorcycle Action Group, across the province the jobs of more than 500 training instructors are in jeopardy due to the situation, while options for novice riders are going to become extremely limited.

Says national vice-chairman Ian Churchlow: “After the difficulties encountered earlier this year with road-race organisers trying to obtain public liability insurance, motorcycling in Northern Ireland is now being attacked in its cradle by insurers withdrawing from providing insurance for motorcycle training schools in the province.

“What is happening in Northern Ireland could easily happen in other parts of the UK.”

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