As expected, the terms of the trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU on 24 December 2020 mean that Solvency II passporting rights are no longer available to UK insurers wishing to conduct insurance business in the EEA.
For UK insurers with policyholders in EEA States, this creates a particular concern that they will no longer be licensed to service those policies, including paying claims, unless they have established an authorised branch in each country. An alternative approach, and that which has been adopted by many insurers, has been to transfer the policies to an EEA carrier.
Post-Brexit, the risk to EEA policyholders of being unable to claim under policies held with UK insurers highlights the importance of understanding limits on individual state discretion in this area.
In our view, the argument that “expat business” (i.e. policies that were sold in the UK to policyholders who subsequently move to the EEA) is not cross-border business, and so is not affected by loss of passporting rights remains a valid one. This means that an EEA authorisation should not be required to continue servicing this type of policy.
However, it is also important to understand that EIOPA’s February 2019 recommendations to the insurance sector on Brexit (see our blog post for discussion) are not binding. Individual states are free, therefore, to apply the rules differently, to the extent that it is possible to diverge from other states under EU law. For example, our blog post dated 15 November 2019 describes the approach taken by France to the post-Brexit servicing of policies held by UK expats.
Finally, a number of EEA States have introduced run-off regimes to mitigate the impact of UK insurers’ loss of passporting rights from the end of the transition period. Each state’s regime is different, though, requiring specific legal advice to be taken in each case as to their effect.
EIOPA recommendations – February 2019
EIOPA’s Brexit recommendations contained the following guidance on legacy business:
- EEA States were encouraged to apply a mechanism for the run-off of EEA business by UK insurers who lose their passporting rights or require those insurers to take immediate steps to become authorised.
- EEA States were also encouraged to recognise that, whilst UK insurers should not be able to write new business (including any renewals, extension or increase of cover) without obtaining a suitable EEA authorisation, policyholders who exercise an option or right in an existing policy to start taking their pension should not be prejudiced.
- Where a policyholder is habitually resident in the UK at the date of entering into a life insurance contract but moves to the EEA afterwards, national authorities should take this into account in their supervisory review.
- National authorities should take the same approach to those classes of non-life business where the risk is treated by Solvency II as situated in the state of an individual’s habitual residence (or the state of a legal person’s establishment).
The recommendations suggested that a distinction should be drawn between legacy business that was written from the outset on a cross-border basis (“cross-border business”) and expat business.
It is implicit in EIOPA’s recommendations that it takes the view that the state of the risk/commitment under an insurance contract is fixed from the date a policy incepts and does not change if a policyholder subsequently moves his habitual residence (or establishment) from the UK to an EEA State. Applying this approach, a UK insurer that continues to pay claims after a UK policyholder relocates from the UK to an EEA State is not carrying on cross-border business and, under the pre-Brexit regime, did not rely on passporting rights to make those payments. Post-Brexit, the same insurer should, therefore, be able to continue to pay claims into that EEA jurisdiction without needing to obtain a local authorisation.
Equally, a UK insurer that meets its obligations to expat policyholders who exercise an option existing under their policy e.g. to exercise drawdown rights should not require an EEA authorisation to do so.
In our experience, most, if not all, UK insurers take the same view on this as EIOPA. They have not, as a consequence, included policies held by UK expats in Brexit-driven Part VII schemes transferring policies to an EEA carrier. The same issue arises, of course, in relation to moves by UK policyholders to non-EEA countries and it would certainly come as a surprise to UK insurers to find that they were unable to continue paying claims in those cases.
By contrast, EIOPA’s recommendations suggest that the servicing of policies that were written before Brexit on a cross-border basis will require an EEA authorisation to replace passporting rights that are currently relied upon. In practice, consistent with this view, we understand that most policies in this second category have been transferred to an EEA insurer before the transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020.
Where a Part VII transfer completed before the end of the transition period, a UK insurer has no need to rely on any of the run-off regimes that have been put in place by a number of EEA states. The transitional relief provided by these regimes may, however, be important for:
- firms who have begun the Part VII process but not completed the transfer of policies before 31 December 2020; and
- firms who have decided not to transfer their cross-border business to an EEA-authorised insurer, perhaps because there are very few of these policies involved or the policies have a very short tail.
One remaining concern, though, is that firms falling into these two categories may end up with a “gap” in authorisation arising from the limited nature of the run-off regimes established by EEA authorities.
PRA guidance – February 2020
In February 2020, the PRA published guidance for UK insurers on their ability to service EEA liabilities once the Brexit transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020. In our view, the guidance is consistent with the view that expat business can continue to be serviced from the UK without an EEA authorisation.
However, the PRA did warn firms that do need an EEA authorisation to service their cross-border business that run-off regimes established by a number of EU authorities to ensure ongoing service continuity in relation to EU liabilities in a “no deal, no transition” scenario may not also apply from the end of the transition period. Firms who were intending to rely on those transitional regimes (as a temporary or permanent solution) were, therefore, advised to undertake a thorough analysis of their expected run-off profile, and to discuss their proposed approach with the relevant EU authorities. (The letter expressly referred to EU authorities and EU liabilities but should, in our view, have applied more widely to EEA authorities and EEA liabilities, consistent with the scope of the Solvency II regime.)
In practice, a number of EEA States have introduced run-off regimes to enable UK insurers to continue paying claims now that the transition period has come to an end. In Ireland, for example, UK insurers and intermediaries that satisfy conditions for entering into its temporary run-off regime are permitted to service their existing portfolio of contracts for a maximum of 15 years. The equivalent regime in Italy is not time-limited.
FCA guidance – December 2020
More recent FCA guidance for life companies and for general insurers (again issued before the end of the transition period) noted the approach taken by EIOPA to expat business but recognised that EIOPA’s recommendations were not binding on EU states. The FCA urged UK insurers with legacy business to engage with relevant national regulators whilst being guided in their decision-making by the need to secure appropriate outcomes for consumers.
It is far from clear what an insurer should do if regulation and customer interests conflict although the FCA’s comment that it would be “a bad outcome for a consumer not to receive the payment of a valid claim or any other payments they’re entitled to” suggests that firms must find a way of fulfilling their obligations to policyholders if at all possible. Other options for firms include compensating policyholders for the loss of benefits caused by local law restrictions or removing exit charges if a policyholder chooses to end the policy because of limitations e.g. on exercising rights or options.
For new business written after the end of the transition period, the FCA suggested that firms may need to spell out any limitations of the contract at sale. This may include making it clear to new policyholders that moving to the EEA may affect their ability to benefit fully from their cover albeit that the position may change from state to state. For example, customers in some EEA states may lose the benefit of rights or options under their contract because an insurer lacks a local authorization.
What is clear in relation to both legacy and new business is that firms need to communicate with customers and keep them informed of any new developments that may affect their enjoyment of their policies.