Complaints to the Insurance Ombudsman of Ireland increased by 24% in 2001, according to new figures.

Irish insurance ombudsman Caroline Gill revealed last week at the launch of her annual report there had been a 24% increase in written disputes referred to her office.

Motor insurance attracted the largest number of complaints - 349 out of the total - as it had in previous years.

Total written complaints rose from 1,034 in 2000 to 1,285 in 2001 and telephoned complaints and inquiries went up by 30% .

However, an IIF spokesman said the rise did not reflect a decrease in service standards by the insurance industry.

Instead, he said it indicated a greater willingness by the public to access the ombudsman's services.

"If the number is going up, it's not a negative thing," he said.

"Our customer service is rising year on year [and] the insurance industry should encourage people to be proactive.

"It's in all of our interests to improve things."

Gill agreed, saying the rise reflected growing public awareness of the scheme.

She said the average complaint handling time was four months.

"Common issues that arise concern subrogation clauses and no claims bonuses," Gill said.