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Are price comparison sites leading you astray?

Laptops showing price comparison sites

Price comparison sites offer a great way of comparing like-for-like products and services, right? Think again. You might get a good deal at first, but when it comes to making a claim you could be left out of pocket.

If you’re paying too much for your car insurance or your energy bill has recently rocketed, you’re probably in the right frame of mind to shop around for a better deal. But will you get a good one on a price comparison site?

Maybe not. I know it sounds weird, but comparison sites too often fail to compare like with like. It seems their interpretation of two supposedly comparable policies is a little skewed.

Not all car insurance policies, for example, are of the same standard or serve the same purpose. Some will be fairly basic, others more comprehensive. Ignoring this and comparing on price alone would lead you to conclude that the best policy is the cheapest. This is crazy – it’s like saying a Ford Focus is much better than a Ferrari because it’s cheaper.

Are they using dodgy tactics?

Comparison sites employ a host of tactics to make themselves more attractive to visitors. These include boosting a quote’s voluntary excess to push down the price, meaning you’d have to stump up more cash in the event of a claim.

The same goes for using pre-ticked boxes – missing these could mean your quote isn’t quite based on what you want. Take home insurance. You might not have smoke alarms fitted, but if this is pre-selected and you miss it, you may get a better quote than you should. If you then try to claim in the event of a fire, you’ll find out how expensive this oversight is, as your claim could get turned down.

Time to get it right

These sites have been around long enough to get it right, and while they are very convenient to use, their use can only be gauged by what you are offered at the end of the process.

I think it’s time for comparison sites to grow up and offer consumers what they want, by presenting quotes that both match the requirements identified by the customer and are uniform across the site. Fudging the results to make you think you’re getting a good deal, when you may not be, isn’t right.


Thanks for posting this. Comparing prices for a camera or TV is easy but comparing insurance premiums is much more difficult. That was a problem long before insurers moved online and price comparison websites were set up. For the person who has the time to study the terms there is not a problem but is essential that everyone is aware of the devious tactics that are in use.

For me, the only options listed on comparison site that are actually worth taking, are the ones to which the website is affiliated. They are simply owned by the company which owns the groups of insurers. All other companies will never show a favourable deal.

There are also many hidden data issues behind comparison sites also. My friend worked for one and even if you didn’t submit your details, anything you typed is scraped off and sold. Really try and read the small print on these sites, they’re as bad as facebook when selling your data and activity. More and more I find myself less inclined to enter my personal details on the internet, not because I think they will be used fraudulently, but because someone is selling my activity and data behind my back without giving me a cut.

absolutely spot on Dean!

Tried using a comparison website when my car insurance rocketed with a newer car and found that a couple of known insurance companies looked good.

But when I really checked and got back to my own insurance company – I found my original insurance had a 75% no claims discount that was “guaranteed” meaning I would never lose the discount even if I made a claim or two. The other two companies had “warranted” NCD which meant if you made two claims in five years you lost the NCD. After a little negotiating with my old and reliable company they reduced my premium to only a little above the old price. I stuck with the old company.

I still don’t trust that either to be fair.

If you have protected no claims and have an accident (at fault or not) you need to change insurers.

Completely and utterly wrong

Because I had an accident – police car crashing into my parked car – my NCD is intact and no increase in premium. Also did triple check on this.

Well your triple checks were obviously different then. Would you say that
a) you have protected no claims? (for which you pay a premium)
b) your renewal quote from the same insurer was THE SAME as the previous year?
c) if it was the same, why did you bother to “triple” check? Are you sure you filled in the same details? I think perhaps not

John says:
18 May 2011

I have found to bring up ” favoured” companies, your own criteria ( eg voluntary excesses) are changed by the system. This gives a low quote but an excess you did not expect or want!

When using these sites you are required to put in compulsory data, like telephone number, and then can’t get your quote unless to agree to terms and conditions. This means (even for a register TPS phone owner) you will receive MANY unsolicited calls. The inability to opt out is MOST unsatisfacory.

Further down the line comes the SPAM, because to get an online quote you gave your email address, but there’s no SPAM optout!

The WHICH? article hits the nail on the head: I take my car abroad several times a year. Few comparison web sites list whether “green car cover” cover is included or give details. So each time I think I can save a hundred pounds or so by switching, I end up staying with my current insurance company, when I find out the cheaper ones charge an arm and a leg EXTRA for continental cover!

BTW- To set up the Ultimate independent comparison web site, surely is something WHICH? should take on. What is a Consumers Organisation for??? I would be willing to pay extra for good independent (and time saving) advice.

John says:
18 May 2011

It’s perhaps time that insurance policies were standardised by law so that when you bought a policy you knew the level of cover without having to spend hours checking policies.

Henry says:
18 May 2011

They are not trustworthy at all. They are not consistent and like for like comparison is a myth. They rake in their commission and leave you in a lurch when a claim matter arises.

Andy says:
20 May 2011

I only ever use comparison sites to draw up a shortlist of best priced options when I’m buying insurance. I always then go to Defaqto.com to compare the star ratings of my options before making a final decision – it’s the best objective source of comparitive data I’ve found, and the differences can be surprising sometimes.

Hi – I use these sites often – I check on 2 or 3 to get an overview. When it comes to giving your phone number – I did it the first time I used one and got fed up with the stroppy girl that kept phoning from one insurer – so now I LIE and put a false number in!!!!
Renewed my car insurance a couple of years ago with “the one that sounds like an Australian girls name”. That year my car was hit by a bus. They were BRILLIANT. My car was repaired and returned to me within a week of the accident. The hire car was delivered to my door and they took my car to the repairers and brought it back.
Later the bus company denied that the accident had even happened. My insurers took them to court (I had a top London Barrister to represent me) and we proved that it was all the bus drivers fault and won the case hands down.
My son in law had an accident about a month ago, a young driver smashed into his car whilst he was sitting in traffic. He is insured with different insurer – and his experience could not be more different. The claims handling dept he is dealing with are rubbish, and although he finally got a hire car he is still waiting to get his own car back from the repairers.
Guess who I am STILL insured with? It is well worth the extra few pounds to have peace of mind.

Rosebud says:
20 May 2011

I guess it depends how easy you want things. You could go through loads of individual websites and complete the forms on numerous occasions and spend a great deal of time, or you can enter your details into one or two comparison websites and have reasonable quotes in minutes. Either way, you are going to get phone calls that my be irritating (if you gave the correct number) or emails (which you can opt out of immediately). If you are a genuine customer, why is that a problem?

If you feel strongly about comparison websites, just don’t use them and see whether you can still feel confident that you have got a good deal by ringing round a la 1990’s.

Comparison websites invariably push up the prices of insurance for all customers.

The average affiliate payment is around £60 mark per sign up/policy taken out via these websites, who do people think pays this affiliate fee?
– the insurance company or the customer?

Aviva bought out a price comparison website a few years ago and then a year later proclaimed that their own norwich union insurance business had reportedly given out an extra 700,000 quotes.
One of the most popular comparison websites was set up using a loan from a famous online (E) insurance company.

Do we really know where our information goes, what lists it is being placed on and sold on for more profits for the company? I don’t believe people do.

Julie of Lytham says:
21 May 2011

I was very concerned recently when I did a comparison for my daughter’s car insurance. She is a student in Manchester. The questions on the comparison site regarding where the car was kept overnight were phrased in a certain manner which resulted in a quote of £800. However, when I went through to the insurance company to buy there was a short sentence at the bottom which said please click here to check your details because assumptions have been made. When I completed the insurance companies questions, the question about where the car was kept was different. The final quote was £2700. If I hadn’t double checked the details I feel she would have been “effectively” uninsured, knowing insurance companies, they would have probably refused to pay out in the event of an accident. Comparison sites are definitely not to be trusted and users should be double checking the information and comparing policies. Holiday insurance is a prime example. I pay a lot more for my annual holiday insurance than I could get it for, but we ski annually and the cheaper policies do not cover things such as piste closure for too much snow. Be careful when using them

Brian Horne says:
1 June 2011

To say that price comparison web-sites charge a fee which is passed on to customers is a statement of the obvious, which would be true for any broker. What is annoying is probably the faiult of the insurers rather than the web-sites but when I get an insurance renewal notice (for car, home or van) I can usually get a better price from the same insurer by using one of the leadeing web-sites. As far as I can see the policy details are identical.
Another complaint is that, for me, the attraction of using such sites is the opportunity they offer to research offers and make comparisons in peace and at a time of my own choosing. Some sites, however, appear to use contact details to start badgering and hassling over the phone.