Comment: Dog insurance enforcement a tall order

No one can be in any doubt that introducing third-party dog insurance would go some way to ensure dog attack victims are adequately compensated for their physical and mental scars - but it is fraught with difficulty.

By David Seel

There currently exist only two compulsory insurance requirements - employer's liability and car insurance. In an ideal world, rather than introduce compulsory third party insurance for pet owners, preventing dog attacks in the first place would be preferable. This is impractical and, unfortunately, impossible.

The government is proposing mandatory third-party injury insurance for all dog-owners. But the main obstacle to introducing a foolproof compulsory insurance scheme will be pet owners themselves. Some dangerous dog owners who keep their pets for fighting or as status symbols, for whatever reason, will be unlikely to take out cover for their pets.

Germany has already pinpointed a few breeds for compulsory insurance and we may follow suit. However, even if taking out adequate cover becomes compulsory, there is no sure-fire way of enforcing this.

Two aspects where cover normally applies under third-party rule is household and pet insurance. At present, though, no insurer will cover dangerous dogs as defined by law. Current reports around the Dangerous Dogs Act and regarding the possibility of introducing third party liability insurance merely refer to proposals. No law has been passed on this yet so these proposed solutions are subject to change.

It may be the case that this process has to be simplified.

One option may be a reintroduction of the compulsory registration of dogs. The registration fee could be kept in a central fund to be used as compensation for victims of attacks by dogs who aren't covered by adequate insurance. Registering dogs could also provide an opportunity for the government to make microchipping compulsory, along with the introduction of automatic third party insurance.

Whatever your view on this topic and the way forward, there is no doubt that it is an area fraught with difficulties.

Enforcement is undoubtedly the main issue and the process will need to be simplified. In order to reach a desirable outcome, a lot of dialogue is required - between the government, insurers, animal organisations and possibly support groups for victims of dog attacks.

Everyone concerned will have varying views on the desired solution, but they will all be looking for the same outcome: prevention of dog attacks where possible and adequate compensation and prosecution in the unfortunate event of an attack.

David Seel is chairman of the Association of British Insurers' pet insurance committee

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