The French regulator, the Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de resolution ("ACPR"), has indicated that it does not intend to comply with Recommendation 6, relating to insurance policies sold in the UK by UK insurers to policyholders who have since relocated to an EEA state ("UK expats").
UK insurers needing to service policies held by UK expats living in France post-Brexit should consider the ACPR announcement carefully. Some may need to secure passporting rights into France before the UK leaves the EU.
Background – Solvency II and third country firms
As widely discussed over the past few years, a risk associated with the UK's withdrawal from the EU is that UK insurers with policyholders in EEA states will not be able to service those policies post-Brexit unless they have established an authorised branch in each country (or unless the policies have been transferred by the time of Brexit to an EEA carrier). This is because, whilst Article 162 of the Solvency II Directive provides for the authorisation of EEA branches of third country insurers, it is silent on how cross-border services business (often referred to as "non-admitted" insurance) from a third country (including the UK post-Brexit) should be treated and there is no consistent approach.
As the possibility of a country leaving the EU has not previously been seen as something for which extensive provision needs to be made in European legislation, little attention has been given to such differences. However, the risk to EEA policyholders of being unable to claim, post-Brexit, under policies held with UK insurers highlights the importance of understanding limits on individual state discretion in this area.
What has EIOPA said?
Under the Solvency II regime, cross-border insurance services are provided where an insurer established in one EEA state covers risks or commitments located in another EEA state.
Recommendation 6 (Change in the habitual residence or establishment of the policyholder) reads as follows:
23. Where a policyholder with habitual residence or, in the case of a legal person, place of establishment in the UK concluded a life insurance contract with a UK insurance undertaking and afterwards the policyholder changed its habitual residence or place of establishment to a EU27 Member State, competent authorities should take into account in the supervisory review that the insurance contract was concluded in the UK and the UK insurance undertaking did not provide cross-border services for the EU27 for this contract.
24. Competent authorities should apply the same approach to non-life insurance contracts that do not relate to buildings or to buildings and their contents or to vehicles.
In summary, EIOPA takes the view that the state of the risk/commitment under an insurance contract is fixed from the date a policy incepts. It does not change, therefore, if a policyholder moves his habitual residence (or establishment) from the UK to France (or any other EEA state) after the policy has been taken out.
Applying this approach, a UK insurer that continues to pay claims today after a UK policyholder has relocated to another EEA state will not be carrying on cross-border business and does not rely on passporting rights to make those payments. Post-Brexit, that insurer should also be able to continue to pay claims into France, say, without needing to obtain a local authorisation to replace lost passporting rights.
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 any Brexit-related Part VII schemes transferring policies to an EEA carrier.
What has the ACPR said?
In a statement published on its website on 8 November 2019, the ACPR stated that French law requires it to conclude that the state of the risk/commitment would move with a UK policyholder to France on a change of habitual residence or establishment (as the case may be). For a UK insurer to service that policy it would, therefore, need to have regulatory permission to conduct insurance business in France. Pre-Brexit, passporting rights held by the UK insurer would be sufficient. Post-Brexit, regulatory permission to conduct business in France would be needed.
If the ACPR's announcement had stopped here, UK insurers needing to service policies held by UK expats post-Brexit would have been placed in an extremely difficult position. Helpfully, however, transitional rules aimed at ensuring that Brexit does not interrupt the payment of claims by UK insurers to policyholders in France appear to provide a solution.
In brief, French legislation (known as the Brexit Ordinance) allows UK insurers to perform their obligations under contracts written before Brexit, including under contracts written with UK expats, provided that, on the date the UK leaves the EU, the insurer holds passporting rights to operate in France.
ACPR has also confirmed that the Brexit Ordinance will not apply to renewals or to contracts providing for the payment of new premiums. This does not, however, prohibit the payment of "mandatory premiums" payable by the policyholder under the contract.
What has the PRA said?
On 12 November 2019, the PRA published a statement highlighting the ACPR's comments. It encouraged firms to seek legal advice and consider any risk arising from the ACPR approach to affected policyholders as soon as possible. Specifically, firms should consider the need to secure passporting rights before exit day to ensure that they could can meet their obligations to UK expats post-Brexit by relying on the Brexit Ordinance.
The extension of run-off rights under the Brexit Ordinance to contracts held by UK expats with UK insurers is welcome. Without this concession, many UK insurers without a French branch would be concerned that they could not pay claims to UK expats, including those moving to France after Brexit, without breaking French law.
The impact of the ACPR's comments on renewals and the payment of additional premium is likely to vary by type of policy. In the case of general insurance, UK firms should be able to take advantage of the Brexit Ordinance, at least until they renew (usually annually). In the case of long term business, annuity policies in payment at the time of Brexit and that have been secured by the payment of a single premium, should fall within France's run-off regime. Drawdown and protection policies should also be able to benefit.
More difficult, perhaps, are long term savings contracts, such as pensions. Whilst, in a sense, no premium is ever mandatory as a policyholder can always lapse the policy, and firms should take advice, we expect that in context this must mean a payment of premium which is mandatory if the cover is to be maintained.
The ACPR comments that its approach to this issue is mandated by French case law and regulation. We would question whether the domestic law of any EEA state, rather than EU law, should determine the state of the risk or commitment under an insurance policy for the purposes of Solvency II rules on passporting.
Firms that need to rely on the Brexit Ordinance to meet their obligations to UK expats in France will need to ensure that they hold passporting rights into France at the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU (currently due to be 31 January 2020). Some insurers will already hold those passporting rights and need take no further action. Others, who have probably never sought to make sales into France, may need to secure their passporting rights before the UK leaves the EU. It is important that they do so. There is no de minimis threshold for the application of the French regime which means that the relocation of a UK policyholder to France (before or after Brexit) could put a UK insurer in breach of French law if it has not taken steps to obtain passporting rights before Brexit.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.