Financial Services Authority managing director John Tiner says the UK liability problems are nowhere near crisis level.
"We are not facing the abyss here - not even close," he says in an exclusive interview for IT's Top 50 Brokers supplement - free with this issue.
He commends the Association of British Insurers (ABI) for raising the issue and lobbying government, but says the crisis is "manageable".
After a fact-finding mission in Australia, which has had similar problems, particularly in employers' and public liability, he saw how insurance can have a social impact.
"I was told surf clubs couldn't get cover...the issue soon became very political with statements from the prime minister [John Howard]," he says. But the UK problems were not of the "systemic proportions that are deep enough to make the social impact that I observed in Australia", he adds.
But Insurance Times continues to receive letters from worried brokers highlighting the fact that businesses face ruin if nothing is done.
A selection of broker letters are printed below.
Neil Silverthorne Richard V Wallis & Co, Birmingham
I've just been through a very tortuous renewal process for a major client in the construction trade.
The results of my renewal meetings with the client and negotiations with insurers highlight what I consider to be a basic distrust of the whole industry by commercial insurance buyers.
My client's premium has risen by over 100%, despite an excellent claims record. Because of the lack of real-time competition, the client felt, not unreasonably, that he was obliged to accept the terms or nothing.
The view from my client was quite simply that he felt he was being ripped off.
On the other side of the fence, I think Phil Bell of Royal & SunAlliance (4 July, Insurance Times) put his finger very succinctly on the point when he challenges anyone to put their own money up for employers' liability (EL) cover.
Indeed, when discussing these renewals with my clients I do play devil's advocate and ask them to put themselves in the position of the insurers and calculate what premium they would wish to charge themselves for EL insurance. The reaction is normally one of grudging acceptance.
The ABI and Biba should be pressing the government to take the long-tail diseases away from insurers, which will enable commercial policyholders to buy EL cover at sensible and reasonable premiums.
Steve Readingn Read Hunt, South Yorkshire
Before starting Read Hunt we were assured by many people, friends included, it wouldn't last long, especially since it appeared that many liability underwriters didn't seem to know whether they would or wouldn't be transacting new liability business for the whole year.
This has worsened significantly over the past few months, when even business obtained on a transfer of agency basis is subject to a new underwriting regime, simply because the client has chosen to use a more active broker.
Consequently the nameless and faceless underwriter concerned has issued revised terms for exactly the same risk (upwards of course), just because he could. If I had ordered a car from one dealership only to be told just because I wanted it serviced at a different dealership, the cost of the car would treble, I would not buy that car.
These are the actions of an industry whose image is already questionable, and one apparently more concerned about disclosing earnings than advising clients.
It is amazing when sat in front of a client, quietly informing him that his liability premium has increased from £85,000 to over £300,000, when his company has been claim-free for over 20 years, I try to justify the increase by prattling on about events that, strictly speaking, should have no influence on premiums.
A client whose knowledge of insurance matters is informed to say the least, put it perfectly recently after he had signed to renew : "If we as an industry increased our products prices' by a minimum of 50% just because the senior management had made [previous] decisions leading to `reduced' profits, we would last about one day".
As an industry we, that is insurers and brokers, need to improve the overall image of insurance. And comments such as those from Phil Bell (4 July, Insurance Times), questioning who in their right mind would put their own money into liability insurance, reinforce the image that cherry-picking risks is an insurer's favourite pastime.
Chris Howell Seaway Insurance Consultants, Torquay
One of the biggest challenges facing commercial brokers is determining the marketplace of liability business, as a result of the courts' attitude to awards for situations that were never envisaged when liability insurance was first offered. Add to this the reluctance, understandable in many cases, of insurers to provide this cover.
A culture of complaint has grown up over the last 20 years, fanned in the past five years by the no-win, no-fee legal advice advertisements, for the cash it will produce.
There are two ways of addressing this problem: put up premiums to an exorbitant level, which will either render many businesses uninsured or close them down; or change the definition of liability insurances to limit the claims that can be made under these contracts.