The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has repeatedly directed auto insurance companies to reduce their rate of return when applying for new rates reacting to an "on-going concern" about excessive profits, CBC News has learned.

It happened 15 times in 2013, according to the board's records.

"The board has an on-going concern that the rate of return being enjoyed generally by the auto insurance industry is still too high," the regulator wrote in a briefing note to the incoming Liberal government in late October.

The latest rollback occurred last week when the UARB reduced the rate of return on an application by The Personal Insurance Company.

In the Dec. 6 decision the UARB wrote: "In a number of recent decisions, the board has noted its concern that industry profits are exceeding what has been approved in the applications."

The regulator said its benchmark rate of return is between 10 to 12 per cent. The industry is actually making 15 per cent in Nova Scotia.

None of this is a surprise to lawyer Ray Wagner who has fought the insurance industry over caps on minor injury awards.

"The excessive profits are coming from consumers who are purchasing the product and paying too much and from injured victims who are not getting what they are entitled to," Wagner told CBC News.

Ray Wagner

Lawyer Ray Wagner has fought the insurance industry over caps on minor injury awards (CBC)

The insurance industry promised Nova Scotians stable rates in return for a limit on injury awards in 2003. The NDP government lifted the cap, but profits remain a concern for the Utility and Review Board.

According to board evidence, in 2012 Allstate recorded a 21 per cent rate of return in Nova Scotia.

UARB doings its job, says finance minister

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen says the regulator is doing its job and the system is actually working.

"I would say the Utility and Review Board is trying to balance the affordability and the profitability and ensuring stability and I think we're achieving that," she said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a statement in response to CBC News inquiries about the board's findings.

"To set prices for a given year, companies employ actuaries to estimate future claims costs and recommend prices to cover anticipated costs," spokesperson Helen Lialias wrote.

"Companies file their proposed rates with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. The board reviews the proposed rates to ensure they are just and reasonable. But rate-making is not an exact science. In some years, prices match costs. In other years, they don't. Any concerns the board has can be worked out with each individual company as they file proposed rates."