Dutch insurance companies are fighting a fierce rearguard action in the courts to prevent the Netherlands’ industry-wide pension schemes selling additional individual social benefits to scheme members.
A new law, passed by the governmental second chamber in November and set to be cleared by the first chamber at the end of December, allows industry-wide schemes to offer supplementary products such as health insurance, disability cover and top-up pensions to employees already under obligation to join the fund itself.
While members will be able to choose whether to sign up for the additional benefits, insurers are crying foul, claiming the legislation could flout European competition law.
Tom Ottervanger, a partner at law firm Allen & Overy in Brussels and Amsterdam, representing the insurers, comments: “The situation is that many funds have set up insurance companies to offer products such as health insurance. They have to do it through separate insurance companies, but then they can use the data for all their scheme members and make special offers.”
Ottervanger says the proposed law, which is set to enter into force on January 1, tries to prevent unfair competition by preventing pension funds from using the data, but he doubts its efficacy. “Whether this will work in practice remains to be seen. Individuals have to give permission for the pension fund to offer them other products, but this could take the form of a question where they are asked whether they mind being told about other products. It is more difficult for private insurers to do this.
“ We are confident the court will find in our favour on this when they look at the implications.”
Martin van t Set, public affairs spokesperson for the VB body for industry-wide pension schemes, argues that the compulsory onus is on the pension funds.
“It is up to the employee whether they make use of individual products, which the employer may be obliged to provide – depending on what is requested by social partners.
“We believe these products have an essential social function.
“This proposal says that pensions funds are not allowed to give free advice to the members for individual products. There are also rules that stipulate that pensions funds with their own insurance companies, for example, are not allowed to use the same brand name.”
A judgement on the court cases is expected by summer 2001.