/ Money, Motoring

Does a Hotmail address make you a less safe driver?


When you apply for insurance, you impart far more than just your claims record and circumstances that could directly lead to future claims. Should there be limits on what insurers consider relevant to your price?

For fun, complete a car insurance application questionnaire. While you’re doing it, count the number of answers – all the discrete items of information that you provide the insurer. Age, your residency in the UK, your job, marital status, whether you have a mortgage, whether you have home insurance, and so on.

Your number will probably be between 30 and 50. Now, how many of these titbits is the insurer using to figure out how ‘risky’ you are? Answer: more than you might assume; perhaps all of it.

Insurers are highly secretive when it comes to how they apply the information you provide when assessing whether to accept you and on what terms. There are areas that are legally out of bounds of their risk models – such as ethnicity, religion, sexuality and gender. As for the rest, updates on what’s used and how tends to come to light via the intermittent news story or general hearsay.

Insurance quirks

Last week, Admiral admitted that it factors in the email addresses (or more specifically, the domain names) of its customers, and that these can affect what they’re charged. This came after an investigation by The Sun found that in certain instances, drivers applying with Hotmail accounts were being quoted between £5.60 and £31.36 more than if they were Gmail users.

This is head-scratching stuff, although certain other revealed uses of information have teetered on the outright discriminatory.

A while ago, we reported Hastings Direct and Admiral to the Equality Commission for charging car insurance customers more if they’d been born overseas – even if they’d grown up in the UK.

Last week’s investigation by The Sun also alleged that several insurers were quoting higher premiums for customers named ‘Mohammed’ than they were for those named ‘John’ – although the insurers deny that they do this.

A less inflammatory – but still perplexing – factor that can intrude on your premium is your marital status.

Other quirks are matters of presentation: whether you choose to describe your occupation as ‘journalist’ or ‘researcher’, or ‘chef’ or ‘kitchen worker’ can nudge the dial on your insurance quote. And it’s possible that in the near future even your social media activity might make a difference.

Relevant details

Many of us would consider the relevance of much of these to be stretching credulity, but insurers clearly feel differently.

When calculating your insurance premium, they’re trying to predict your future. The more ancillary details they can obtain about you, the better they can compare you with customers that they already have and so, in theory, the more accurate their prediction will be.

That’s one side of the argument, anyhow. An argument against is that what tends to happen to people ‘like’ you is far less relevant than your own lived experience. This may explain the growing demand for ‘telematics’-based car insurance policies that monitor your driving minute-to-minute and calibrate your premium to fit.

Do you think it’s reasonable for insurers to use your email address or other factors that don’t seem particularly related when considering your driving risk Or do you think their making maximum use of the data you provide is the surest way to a quote that best reflects you?


Interesting point but the world is “unfair” and we all make judgements based on sometimes quite flimsy information. Insurance companies actually probably have a far deeper data set then most companies from which they can seek trends.

Also bear in mind an insurance company is very likely wishing to spread the risk of it’s portfolio of drivers. Once it has enough 90 year olds or 19 year olds on the books it will probably make these ages more expensive. That is the nature of insurance – spread your risks widely.

As for the email address they may be aware that Hotmail users are more price insensitive than other email users, or possibly Hotmail users are more accident prone per 1000 clients.

Thanks for this curious story, Dean. I will share it with some friends.

I have never used a free email account, mainly to avoid security problems.

It is very curious, wavechange. My car insurance is with Admiral and I called them to ask if my insurance was more because I use a Hotmail address, and they confirmed it most likely was – but only by a small amount because it is only a small factor.

It looks as if we need to ask Which? to find out the best email to use to keep premiums down, Alex. I normally use the email address provided by my ISP but still have an account provided by my old employer.

It’s definitely something to look into, however, these are set by the provider. What may increase your premiums for one company, could increase them with another. Personally, I strongly disagree that who your email address is with affects your driving (but I’m not the expert)

Have you had any accidents in the last five years? Convictions for speeding or other offences? Will your car be used for hire or reward? Is there anything else we need to know about, such as a Hotmail account?

The colour of your car should, in theory, not affect your driving. However car colour can be an insurance premium trigger. The size of your car does not affect your driving skill but does impact on premiums.

If the data does show a correlation then why not use it. Car insurance incidentally is one of the few markets where there is genuine competition and I am not at all convinced that getting every company to use the same criteria or explain it is actually helpful for competition.

because the main issue is correlation is not causation

The key, here is risk assessment and what insurance companies need to make this. Since this is a secretive business it is difficult to judge what is relevant and what isn’t. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be room for making an individual’s clean record, over many years, a basis to set a premium. No claims, yes, but the actual premium is more to do with what category of person you are deemed to be. That is an impersonal decision based on the factors of that given group and not on one’s own record. It may be that a Hot Mail address is acquired by a particular set of people, who may choose this as one of many accounts, while Hot Mail itself may be seen as one of the more international servers and less of a permanent domain than one of the established providers, like BT, Talk Talk or PlusNet. Extrapolating this the insurers then define Hot Mail users as a higher risk group, and thus charge more. This is just speculation on my part without any facts to back it up. The whole point of insurance is that the company makes more money than it pays out, and so makes a living for itself and its employees. Car insurance is compulsory so the market is assured and it’s just who grabs the most share that counts. There’s the delicate balance between undercutting competitors and keeping the premiums healthy. Hopefully somewhere within this mix is a desire to serve the motoring public. That also attracts customers who are prepared to pay more.

This is sort of my thoughts also Vynor and I think this maybe because of early Hotmail users.

Historically, nearly everyone used their ISP email addresses and anyone with a Hotmail account needed to be treated with a little caution.

Times have changed and very few people can now use an ISP email address.

I’m curious to know why people cannot use their ISPs email address. Many friends that use free email accounts have been had their accounts compromised, sometimes several times. I’ve certainly not had this problem with my ISP’s email. With the smaller ISPs there is a reasonable chance of choosing an email address without adding a collection of numbers. I’ll accept that it’s a problem if you want to switch ISP, but I’m happy with mine.

Because many ISPs no longer supply email accounts. My broadband was migrated to Sky who use Yahoo as do other ISPs.

That’s a fairly convincing reason, Alfa. It’s amazing what you learn on Which? Convo. 🙂

1 Lock-in of my emails to continued use of an ISP … and much wider lock-in for other services. I have been forced to change ISP twice by my contract being sold to companies I prefer not to deal with.
2 most ISPs are no better than google or even MS when it comes to the security of your personal data.

It’s not that they can’t use an ISPs email address, it’s that it isn’t portable. I’ve had the same hotmail.com email address for 20 something years. In that time I’ve had maybe 10 ISPs.

I’ve been happy with my ISP and have stayed with it even though I have moved home. I know some people who have their own domain and have an associated email account. I do, but for a society rather than for personal use.

I am baffled by this. I started using e mail at work 22 years ago and shortly after that added a personal account using Hotmail. As e mail became more widely used and the number of messages grew, I added a personal Gmail account so that I could use the Hotmail account for online purchases, dealing with utilities, insurance companies, Which?, etc etc, and the Gmail for correspondence with friends and family.
That works very well for me. I have had the same Hotmail address for more than 20 years without any problems. It had never occurred to me that this might be seen as somehow suspect.
I would have to change my contact details with dozens of different organisations if I moved my personal business to another e mail address, so I’ll probably just put up with the disapproval of the insurance world (and the costs that apparently go with it).
I still don’t understand the reasoning though – after all Hotmail has been providing e mail longer than the “established providers” like BT, Talk Talk or PlusNet

Surely the size of the car does affect the risk and should play a part in determining the premium. It’s not just down to driving skill. A bigger car is a bigger target so possibly more likely to be hit or to strike something. It also has a bigger body and will be more expensive to repair or replace. I don’t see that the e-mail address has much relevance; most people stick with their e-mail address through thick and thin and could, like me, have one they chose twenty-five or more years ago. I know a lot of people of a similar age with a Hotmail address but none of them have mentioned disadvantageous insurance terms.

I presume personal injury claims may be the expensive payouts for insurers. A small car and its occupants are likely to suffer more in a collision. Large cars probably protect their occupants better but will be more expensive to repair.

There is not always a cost with a personal injury but there is almost always a cost with collision damage.

Again it is just to make money.

Howard says:
10 February 2018

An extraordinary factor I came across recently is that insurance premiums tend be lower (yes lower) the more people you have on your policy. Why on earth?

I asked that very question to an insurance company a couple of years ago! I was told that it is assumed that because more people want the use of the car, that each individual will be more careful when driving because there are more people to affect if the car goes off the road for repairs.

I am a 70 year-old with a 19 year no claim record, a Hotmail address also for 19 years, and a Land Rover Discovery. My renewal premium with Admiral was quoted as £411 (up from £335 last time) so I shopped around and ended up with the AA at £304, for exactly the same insurance. There might indeed be something in this Hotmail angle.

It’s more likely it went up when you turned 70! As with travel insurance, most insurers start increasing premiums when their customers reach 70 (or 75) and continue to do so as the years pass. Like they say premiums will drop when you reach 25 – but mine never did – it didn’t go up by quite as much! I will reach the magic ‘7’ number later this year and will scrutinise my next renewal notice very carefully – but over the last 10 or so years I’ve usually changed insurer because most offer a ‘sweetener’ first year premium to get you on board. As for email address – I have my own domain name – how would that affect things?

I have been told that motor insurance companies generally stop at 9 years with NCD.

Certainly occupation is a sensitive subject. I never put “publican” or “licensee” but got away with “hotelier” and, better, “chartered accountant” Other trades are more subtly nuanced.

I wonder how an admiral would fare with, er, . . . Admiral. Are they good for a watertight policy?

It’s not good to be watertight; sea water is needed in the propeller shaft seals to lubricate them (so I am told by an august journal). I would be vary wary if I were high up in the army of joining General Accident though.

I remember when General Accident were amalgamating with Commercial Union [before the merger with Norwich Union and now known as Aviva] there was speculation that the new company would be called Commercial Accident. Shades of the Fire, Auto & Marine Insurance Co that spectacularly imploded leaving policy-holders high & dry without cover.

Does anyone remember the story about Ryanair’s plans to charge passengers to use the toilet, and it was more than 1p. I suspect that this was done to raise awareness of the company. Maybe the widely reported Hotmail story is being used by Admiral to generate publicity.

The insurance industry makes the rules mainly to increase its profits They will tell you anything just to keep the pennies ” sorry ” meant pounds rolling in In insurance they are in control and must be obeyed Like it or lump it

Recently Which? said that insurance premiums were on average higher when the cover is taken out in December (I think). I challenged this since insurance normally runs for 12 mnths and so every month of the year is included and the risk is spread. I have yet to receive a sensible, reasoned answer. Risk factor is what matters so age, experience and driving record, car type and power all come into play but an Email address is surely a bit tenuous? Soon they will be asking us who we vote for or are we pro or anti Brexit!

What this seems to expose is that some of the data used in insurance is tenuous at best.
I think most people understand why a 6.3 litre AMG tuned merc sports car is riskier … some might start to think some professions such as involve risk taking may also be higher… but email accounts seem like scraping the bottom of the data lake for any excuse to add premiums.
The fact this isn’t then published makes it worse especially for anyone who prefers to for example use a throw away account or linked to their other accounts or personal data to get quotes.

Bob P says:
11 February 2018

I think it all comes down to hard numbers (which insurance companies keep to themselves). I’m guessing here, but if, say, 30% of policy holders have Hotmail addresses, but over a year 40% of claims come from people with Hotmail addresses, then they could assume Hotmail address holders are a higher than normal risk.

Similarly with policies taken out in December, if significantly more than 31/365ths of claims come from those policy holders then there is some greater risk with such people – goodness knows what though !

It’s puzzled me that they haven’t ever asked for car colour, which would seem to be a better established risk, but of course, they know that now from the DVLA data they access.

Except let’s take policies taken out in December … all that shows is what happened last year, it has no bearing on what might happen next year. It’s like drawing cards from a well shuffled deck. I might draw 5 diamonds in a row or I might draw 5 hearts if I keep going eventually I’ll draw 5 of the same suite.. the bigger the sample (number of decks) the more likely I’ll get a freak run. However if I reshuffle the cards just because last time it was diamonds doesn’t make it more or less likely next time.

Or … why do they need hard data. They can just decide to increase premiums in December. People are busy so less likely to have time to shop around.

I think you have a good point there about lack of time (/inclination) to shop around much in December….

D Hoogmoed says:
2 March 2018

I believe that this practice amounts to profiling and under the new GDPR Regulations coming into effect on May 25th this practice is governed by a number of rules – see link


I think we can all look forward to finding out what data companies know about us and how they are using it.

I really don’t care what information insurance companies hold on me – I regard this as part of the price I pay for their services. I would be delighted if I could persuade an insurer to fit a black box to my car, but none of the companies I have so far approached will consider me as a customer. The problem seems to be that I am aged 80 and run a Porsche, despite the fact I have been driving for 65 years (16 of them as a professional driver covering 70,000+ miles a year), am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, have an annual driving assessment, clean licence and have made only one insurance claim. My current insurer has told me it does not insure drivers over the age of 80 and so it looks as if I will have difficulty in finding another insurer.

Any suggestions?

Andrew says:
8 August 2018

It seems idiotic to me to ignore gender data and yet accept risk-based discrimination in most other fields. Either risk is a valid basis for insurance price or not.
In my experience, more Internet savvy people are less likely to have gmail/yahoo/hotmail accounts because they’re all scanned by the providers for useful information to be used by advertisers and are open to government snooping. And I would have thought hotmail has a slightly older user age profile than gmail – so it’s a puzzle why it’s higher risk.