May 6, 2020 / 6:41 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Direct Line insurance claims drop as lockdown keeps cars off roads

(Adds details from statement, background on company and rivals)

May 6 (Reuters) - Direct Line Insurance Group Plc reported a 70% drop in motor insurance claims for April on Wednesday, as people stayed at home and drove less due to a nationwide lockdown in the UK to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Britain’s biggest car insurer also reported a 4.7% rise in first-quarter gross written premiums to 789.6 million pounds ($981.39 million), but forecasted travel-related claims worth 44 million pounds if restrictions remained in place till the end of September.

The FTSE 250-listed company expects to incur a 70 million pound hit due to a range of measures focussing on customers in financial difficulty, including refunds as well as giving its employees job security, among other things.

The company and its rivals, which were already grappling with stiff competition and high costs before the coroanvirus crisis, are under pressure from regulators to refund customers their premiums as claims fall drastically due to the lockdown.

Direct Line, which was once part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, reiterated its targets of a combined operating ratio in the range of 93% to 95% in 2020. A ratio below 100% means the insurer earns more in premiums than it pays out in claims.

The company, which withdrew its final 2019 dividend last month to conserve cash amid the virus outbreak, said it will review its dividend position alongside its half-year results.

$1 = 0.8046 pounds Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich

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