ICBC repair shops deny union allegations of overbilling repair costs

ICBC accredited repair shops are denying allegations from the union representing ICBC estimators that they are overbilling customers.

Autobody shops say a computer system limits their discretion

The union representing ICBC estimators says costs have escalated since body shops were again allowed to do their own estimates. (CBC)

ICBC accredited repair shops are denying allegations from the union representing ICBC estimators that they are overbilling customers.

In 2001, the union says a system was brought in that allowed repair shops to estimate the cost of damage repair. Since then, the union alleges costs have escalated because shop bill the maximum number of hours allowed for a repair, even if it's not necessary to work that long.

"The system allows the body shop to say we think the repair costs to fix the panel, not replace it with a new part, but fix it will be 20 hours, and the estimators who have done this work for many years say, 'whoa, hang on a second in our opinion it is a 10 or 12 hour job, even eight hours,'" said Annette Toth, vice president of MoveUP. "The body shops, because of the nature of the system, are able to charge and are getting paid those extra hours."

The union says there is a backlog for reviewing estimates due to a lack of staff.

24 per cent of ICBC's total expenses can be attributed to legal costs. (ICBC)

Costlier repairs

But auto body shops say the union's claims are exaggerated

"Only 7 per cent on $25,000 claim, so it is a very small amount of actual dollars spent on anything that we have judgment over. And all of those judgment times are sent in to ICBC for review," said Rick Hatswell, chief operating officer of Craftsman Collision. "Often we'll get a phone call for more photos, better photos, how to understand how the repair is done, so it is not something we can just put 100 hours on and hope for the best, we have to justify the time."

According to Hatswell all accredited shops use the same computer system jointly with ICBC. He says damage information is entered and photos are uploaded to the system, which then determines the cost for each part and the maximum hours allowed to either repair or install it. If the system deems a part would take too long to fix, it tells the shop to replace it

ICBC could see a spike in claims as winter weather sweeps over much of the province. (CBC)

"The whole system is set up with audit processes in place to make sure if there are errors, willingly or otherwise by shops in the estimate of repairs for vehicles, that they are addressed," said Ken McCormack, president of the Automotive Retailers Association.

But McCormack questions the motivation behind the allegations he says have little supporting evidence.

"I suspect their union is motivated by ensuring their members are represented and if possible retained or increase the number of employees at ICBC," said McCormack. "We are in the best place to do a lot of the work that's currently done by some ICBC employees."

But the union says it's not as simple as that.

"Our members take their job very seriously and they know they are responsible for public money and they know they aren't able to do the job they used to do with pride, to make sure premiums are held down," Toth said.

 The B.C. Government has ordered an audit of ICBC that is expected to be completed by early next year.