The owner of an activity centre, part of whose business risked closure this week due to insurance costs, is calling on the Government to introduce penalties for parents of children who make fraudulent claims. Funny Bones in Co Sligo was only saved from closing its entire operation completely through the intervention of a collective group for play centres.
The Collooney centre was forced to close its high ropes and climbing wall section on Tuesday but last week faced certain closure of their soft play area too after receiving an insurance quote renewal for €53,000 with an excess of €25,000. However a lifeline was thrown to the centre by PALI (Play Activity and Leisure Ireland) which managed to secure insurance for the soft play area only at a premium of €11,500.
While owner Stephen Durkin is breathing a sigh of relief that he can still open part of his business, he has called on the Government to introduce penalties for parents of children who make fraudulent claims against such centres.
In the last three years, Stephen has seen his insurance costs skyrocket six-fold, from €9,000 to €45,000 with a €2,000 excess. Last year, that cost rose to €45,000 with a €25,000 excess claim premium and this year, he was given a quote of €53,000 with a €25,000 excess, only weeks before his existing insurance ran out.
The former post-primary special needs teacher has four full-time and up to 15 part-time employees and rather than let any staff go or reduce their hours, he has decided to try and get a part-time job himself as a substitute teacher.
“We have had to close the climbing wall and high ropes section because of insurance costs, despite having had no claims against us in the last five years,” said Stephen.
The centre last year catered for 20,000 ‘walk-ins’, 10,000 party guests and 2,000 school tours and up to 15% of those arrived to use the climbing walls.
I’m not sure how the existing business will cope as a lot of families would come because the teenagers could use the ropes while the smaller children could go into the soft play centre. It really did cater for all ages.
“The climbing wall was also very beneficial to those with special needs. I saw a young child after getting spinal correction come here three years ago to use the wall in order to build up her back muscles. That same kid is running around the place now.”
Stephen believes the industry needs to be changed drastically.
“If we win a claim, we still have to pay costs. The plaintiffs don’t have to so there is no risk for them to bring a case. I’d love to see the Personal Injuries Assessment Board take more action against people who make false statements to them.
“I’m led to believe that a number of claimants suddenly stop going to physio once a claim has been awarded. Maybe we should send them to Knock instead for miracles and save us money,” he added.
Meath-based Linda Murray and a committee founded PALI, which now has more than 90 members ranging from play centres to pet farms.
“Stephen, who has no claims against him, had to close a nice, active and healthy area because of insurance. I’ve people ringing me every day — some I can help and others I can’t. About 15 play centres have closed this year and that’s not counting other leisure industries.”