ICBC is doubling the number of estimators heading to body shops to make sure the insurer is not being dinged by businesses that have the right, in some circumstances, to approve their own repairs.

The change reverses years of cuts to ICBC estimators that put many body shops in the driver's seat when it came to the amount of money they could bill from the province’s public auto insurer.

“We doubled the number of estimators going to auto body repair shops to ensure that’s being done is the work that’s necessary,” Attorney General David Eby told CTV News Vancouver. “We didn’t have enough estimators to do that work.”

Under the Express Repair program, some 90 per cent of body shops can start work before an ICBC estimator has even seen the file, as long as the work is under $2,500 and they haven’t heard back from an ICBC estimator within two hours.

But there have been concerns some body shops have been abusing that privilege. According to MoveUp, the union that represents ICBC workers, millions of dollars a year could be leaving the corporation before the estimators can approve a repair.

“Our estimators caught them time and time again. They were so short-staffed that they knew people were falling through the cracks and getting away with billings they shouldn’t have been,” said MoveUp president David Black.

CTV News obtained an internal ICBC data extract that looked at one week's worth of these claims in 2017. Estimators turned down about $225,000 worth of extra parts, labour and other charges they said weren’t necessary. That was about 40 per cent of the time.

It’s not clear how much wasn’t caught, said Black, adding that "there needs to be more oversight.”

 

ICBC customer Sharon Buckingham agrees. She got into a rear-ender that resulted in some damage to her Dodge Grand Caravan’s bumper. She says she took it to a body shop and was surprised at how the staff there treated it.

“I asked if the repair would be over $2,000, and they said, 'Why would I care? The insurance is paying for it anyway.' I said, ‘I care very much,'” Buckingham told CTV News.

One reason: because a repair over $2,000 because might impact her car’s resale value.

But she also cared as an ICBC ratepayer.

“I thought, another company ripping off ICBC and the B.C. people,” she said.

Buckingham said she got the car fixed privately for $600.

 

A report by Price Waterhouse Cooper was supposed to address the problem – but it didn’t come to clear conclusions about the waste.

The Automotive Retailers Association, which represents many B.C. body shops, says Express Repair helps customers get their cars back on the road faster.

“It’s a program that has been proven to be the best service to the customer and the best expense to ICBC,” said the ARA’s Adrian Skovell.

ICBC didn’t agree to do an interview for this story, but told CTV News in an email the number of estimators has gone from 296 in 2007 to a low of 213 in 2017. In 2018, the number jumped to 261.

“We have seen significant improvement in the number of transactions processed on a daily basis. This has had a positive effect on our ability to meet the goal of a two-hour turnaround on estimate approvals,” said ICBC spokesperson Lindsay Wilkins.

Estimates and supplements processed on a daily basis have increased by almost 33 per cent, she said.

“We’re in the process of modernizing our collision repair and glass supplier programs because we know there are opportunities for improvement,” she said. “Some of the objectives of this work focus on increasing accountability, raising performance standards, and achieving cost reductions through increased efficiencies, while ensuring our customers continue to receive safe, prompt repairs at the best market value."