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ICBC believes the estimate shortcuts were taken only at the Richmiond Claim Centre. (CBC)

ICBC has fired six of its estimators at the Richmond Claims Centre and an auto body shop in the city has lost its accreditation following an investigation, CBC News has learned.

Five of the estimators were dismissed last week and another was let go in March after another Richmond Claims Centre staff member blew the whistle on claims that were being improperly processed.

The fired employees allegedly violated ICBC policies by approving repair estimates from at least one auto body shop over the phone, rather than in person. Policies require an in-person authorization and visual examination to ensure that repair businesses aren’t padding or inflating their estimates.

Drivers involved in accidents usually take their vehicles to claims centres, where staff estimators review the damage, make an estimate and hand drivers a list of approved repair shops.

But drivers can also take their vehicles directly to approved ICBC Valet Service repair shops, but an ICBC estimator still must go personally to inspect the damage and approve the estimate.

"Instead of actually going and looking at the vehicles to see how badly they were damaged, they were just taking the word of the body shops and approving these estimates, and that's a big violation of a very important policy at ICBC," spokesman Steve Crombie said.

Crombie also said an apparently inordinate amount of business was going to certain body shops.

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ICBC spokesman Steve Crombie says the firings followed the discovery of repeated policy violations.

"We don't know whether it was deliberate, we don't know if it was by accident, if they got complacent because they're familiar with the people they're dealing with in the body shops," he said. "But we did determine that there were repeated violations of our policies and as a result we took action."

ICBC said the RCMP was also asked to investigate but has not uncovered any evidence that the fired estimators had received kickbacks for the phoned-in approvals, Crombie said.

There was also no added cost to drivers whose vehicle repairs were improperly authorized, ICBC says.

Crombie said that although it's believed the violations were confined to the Richmond Claim Centre, the corporation will examine the practices of estimators at other claims centres across the province.

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With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin