/ Money, Motoring

Are you a sitting duck for insurers?


Renewing your car insurance? You’ll get there in the end, but call centre staff might lead you down a long and winding road first.

Think of a number. Double it and add four. Now say: ‘Hmm. Let me see what I can do.’ Congratulations! You are qualified to work in an insurance call centre.

Why is it so hard to renew car insurance?

I write this fresh from a conversation with my car insurer, in which my need to renew the policy and apply it to a new car led me down a tortuous path through the company’s inner workings and inexplicable rules. Random fees wafted in and out of the conversation. And every so often, someone would interject: ‘Can I interest you in multi-car?’

Here’s how it happened. My wife bought a new car, so I called our insurer, Admiral, armed with quotes from Sheilas’ Wheels and Esure (both £187), Diamond (£219), and Elephant (£221). Admiral quoted more than £260. Perhaps they thought I was a sitting duck?

The call handler then said: ‘If you got [a quote from] Diamond or Elephant, they are the same as us, so we can match that quote.’ If I hadn’t mentioned the other quotes, I’m sure I would have ended up paying over the odds.

Random rules and fickle fees

Having navigated the first pitfall, I then proceeded to tackle the issue of the month still to run on my wife’s previous car, a Mini. A new policy would mean forfeiting the no-claims bonus attached to the old one. Cancelling the Mini’s policy would incur a £45 fee (for what?).

Help was at hand. ‘I can get you an introductory five-years’ no-claims discount for one month, then you can transfer the old no-claims discount.’

I cancelled the Mini’s policy, because Admiral randomly waived the £45 anyway. In the end I paid £219, which is a fair price, but it had taken a 45-minute phone call to get there. And having first called Renewals, I then had to call New Business.

I strongly suspect that companies all use the same call centre, that numbers are plucked out of the air and that agents can waive whatever they like.

Why can’t car insurance be fair?

My message to the industry is simple: be fair and transparent with your quotes and your fees. And don’t ever make a ‘courtesy call’ to ask if I want multi-car. I don’t.

Have you ever had an experience similar to mine? What kind of random fees and costs were you subjected to?


Having parted with the premium, I was subjected to the cost and distress of having my valid claim rejected by Which? Recommended John Lewis Home Insurance. This was no administrative oversight, as Which? well knows and Mr Vicary-Smith is personally aware. It is pretty rich for Which? to bemoan the lack of transparency by insurers when it failed to hold John Lewis to account and continues to recommend an insurer that refuses to explain its actions. Information I might add that only came to light after I was forced to use the data protection act to drag the documents out of their clutches. And so I fight on without one iota of assistance from Which? after 37 years as a loyal member and supporter of the charity holding company.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Wow, what does WHICH have to say aboutthis, and no hiding behind ‘ it’s a Legal Issue, we cannot comment.@

The usual position from Which? is silence. For the record, everything I say is supported with direct evidence. I would further add that John Lewis’ Chairman, Charles Mayfield, gave a personal assurance that I would receive comprehensive responses to each point of complaint within 21 days. When that didn’t happen Mr Mayfield refused to respond further. I subsequently made subject access requests. Had Mr Mayfield honoured his promise, information would have come to light far sooner.

I worked with a Which? researcher who saw the evidence and wrote the story for publication. When John Lewis responded with carefully crafted corporate spin that avoided dealing with the core issues, the researcher said he would return to John Lewis with further questions. It was at this point that everything changed suddenly: the researcher left; the story was dropped; and Which? began to behave just like those corporate interests it claims it exists to make us as powerful as.

I have tried very hard to ask Which? to investigate these matters privately without success. As one of the 7,000 Ordinary member ‘shareholders’ in Consumers’ Association Ltd, I wrote to the trustees outlining my concerns about the conduct of Which? Ltd. Regrettably, my letter was not sent to them. Perhaps ironic, given the Which? campaign to improve complaint handling in public services.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Thank you very much for your comments Gary. Your case is something we have worked on at length. Although I understand you’re frustrated with the outcome, for the benefit of the rest of the community and in line with our community guidelines we must keep the discussion on the topic of added fees by car insurers . Thank you

Patrick, I felt my comments aligned with the general theme of insurance practice and transparency raised by the CEO, as this is also at the root of the unresolved issues with John Lewis insurance about which he is aware. That’s how conversations tend to work. Do you also intend to enforce the guidelines in respect of other contributions to this conversation that do not specifically mention motor insurance?

For the record, the nature of your tweaks might suggest to others that I have made statements which are wrong. While they may be inconvenient, they are correct and, as Which? knows, are supported with direct evidence. Your edits therefore amount to censorship.

I note you don’t refute my summary of events; it is the case that once your researcher became suddenly ‘confused’ and left, Which? worked at some length to avoid questioning John Lewis about why my claim was declined. As Which? knows, the FOS considers that is a matter for those involved to explain. I wonder why this particular Which? recommended provider prefers silence and why Which? considers that situation to be acceptable especially when it is clear this is a far more widespread consumer issue.

It’s the concepts of ethics and integrity that are frustrated. If one cannot trust that a Which? recommended provider will behave honestly then what is the point of the icon scheme beyond generating income? And what are the potential consequences for the standing of Which? in failing to act?

All that said, I shall of course respect the rules you choose to enforce in regard to my postings in this thread. Perhaps my concerns can instead be moved to begin a new conversation in relation to the WRP scheme and governance?

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Hello Gary, thanks for the reply. I know it can be frustrating, but we have to apply our rules equally to everyone on the community and any edits are very rare and only ever in accordance with our T&Cs https://conversation.which.co.uk/terms-conditions/.

Oh, and I just thought you might like to know that we have a forum for Which? members where they can talk about things like governance. Here’s a link if you’re interested: http://member.community.which.co.uk/. Thanks again.

Thanks Patrick, the stark issue is that a serious consumer matter has been overlooked – one that is not only limited to me – involving an organisation that Which? Ltd endorses and receives income from. It’s also the case that I had responded to a call for help from Which? because Legal Expenses insurance was a matter of concern to members.

My statements are correct and fully supported by direct evidence already known to Which? and John Lewis. As I am concerned that your edits might suggest otherwise, I would like to understand your reasoning. Perhaps we can continue that conversation offline?

I know the management consider Which? to be a £100m business, but ultimately it is a charity with specific objectives along with a duty to maintain public trust and confidence.  It is to Consumers’ Association Ltd that I address my concerns; as a member of the company I understand that its work requires financing, but I would fail in my duty if I did not raise concerns regarding reputational and governance issues about which I have personal experience and hold a stack of direct evidence.  The only reason I do so publically is because it’s been made impossible for me to do so privately. I hope readers will understand that my motives are to protect an organisation I have supported without question for 37 years and to help prevent others from suffering the utter despair of being a sitting duck for the deliberate refusal of a valid insurance claim at the point of greatest need. If sneaky insurance fees are worthy of conversation it is difficult to conceive of any reasons why sneaky insurance claim irregularities should pass without proper scrutiny and comment.

I’ll head over to the member area; anyone who may be interested is most welcome to test the veracity of my assertions and to judge the evidence for themselves.

Peter, Which? recommend NFU Mutual, John Lewis Insurance, LV (presumably also Nationwide), Saga (you and your wife may not yet qualify 🙂 ).

I wonder why you did not take their advice? Maybe you would have had better service. Customer satisfaction for those top four – 78 – 87%. For Admiral – they come 26th out of Which?’s list of 34 insurers with a customer score of only 62% – 5% below the overall average.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

At one time I was able to simply renew my car insurance with the same company, maybe after getting another quotation to provide reassurance that the premium was reasonable. Now it seems inevitable that there will be a significant price rise, so I waste my time getting other quotations. I’m not going back to haggle, thank you.

Are there still any motor insurers that don’t feel the need to exploit existing customers?

I’ve been with Nationwide (LV) for a while and they perform well. One car is through a broker who, for a small fee, shop around each year and advise which company they recommend. Works for me.

I used to have a friend who was an insurance broker and he did not charge a penny. Sadly he moved out of insurance. It’s just the last few years I have encountered companies pushing up prices.

I assume, unless your friend did you a favour, he would have received undisclosed commission. He had to make a living.

I know of two other mutual friends who benefitted in the same way. It was offered, not asked for.

It is funny that having assisted in the demise of local insurance brokers Which? is now bemoaning the fact that most people have problems with insurance contracts and that renewal time is a poroblem.

In this century i actually did the renewals at a small High St. broker and checked the premiums against the panel of companies we dealt with. And of course we would also have a reasonable idea on who not to go to, and the various travel policies strengths and weaknesses, and boat insurance, and household ……

Of course internet companies are wonderful cheap and Which? is always keen on the lowest price. Having assisted in the destruction of the intelligent intermediary the general public now can wrestle directly with the insurers. Good fun.

Given that Which? has entered into the mortgage market perhaps the insurance broking industry is next .

This is splendid work for a charity but as Which? is the only one claiming to test products without manufacturers input I would be grateful if they would improve that side of their offering.

DT “Given that Which? has entered into the mortgage market perhaps the insurance broking industry is next .
This is splendid work for a charity”

It is a commercial operation that aims to increase Which?’s income (and, no doubt, bonuses); at least that is my understanding of the way Which mortgage advisers works. it seems also to be currently losing £4.2 M (last financial year) if I read the accounts correctly. I don’t know where the money comes from but I’d rather they put it into product testing. Why cannot they simply assess “trusted mortgage advisers” as they do “trusted traders” and their “recommended providers” of financial products?

Hi, thanks for your comments. I thought I’d just share that as a not-for-profit funded solely by our commercial ventures, our new services are crucial to shoring up our proposition for the future and ensuring that Which? can continue to fund our activities to make consumers more powerful. Which? Legal is in profit; Which? Mortgage Advisers will be five years old this month and continues to go from strength to strength; and Which? Trusted Traders is in the earlier stages of growth.

Also, we launched Which? Mortgage Advisers because we wanted to bring our trusted values to a life-stage that our customers often told us they found highly stressful: moving home and buying a property. Thanks.

Patrick, thanks for the reply. I have not a problem with Which? entering into sound, low risk, commercial ventures to add to its profits. However I personally believe they should not duplicate equivalent operations in a commercial market unless those operations are inadequate or not acting in consumers’ interests. So for mortgages I would have thought Which? could identify sufficient brokers under a “trusted advisers” scheme rather than set up a parallel operation that at present is costing Which? £4.2 M a year (£5.8 M 2013-14). India cost £1.7M that year with other subsidiaries losing £15M.

So I suppose I am questioning Which?’s ability in these areas, resulting in considerable loss to its core business of protecting UK consumers.

As long as the income generated from trusted schemes etc. has no dependency upon any relationship with Which? and is not used to determine incentives – either could give rise to a conflict of interest – then they do work for the benefit of consumers, I totally agree.

I do hope I have not misunderstood the accounts but please tell me where I have. Perhaps I am not adept at modern business but I would have thought a growing income from members’ subscriptions – currently £94.6M – could fund Which?’s activities adequately without taking on the very clear risks of some commercial operations.

Patrick, I really think comments on this might be better aired on the Which? Community forum – except it seems so very underused. If you would prefer they were not aired here I am quite happy for them to be edited or removed.

Thanks for the feedback Malcolm, which I’ll pass on. But yes, best to stick to the discussion of car insurance fees.

Thanks Patrick. On car insurance, my policy with Nationwide lists clearly the following charges: cancelled policy £40 (refund for unused period), change of driver or vehicle £15, correcting information that has been supplied incorrectly £10. My other policy is through a broker and they charge£10 each for arranging a new policy, renewal, mid-term adjustments, replacement or duplicate certificates; mid-term cancellation £15 and any refund is made less commission. These seem not unreasonable, and are not hidden.

Renewal was easy and straightforward – NW premium was little different to last year and my broker automatically shopped around and again got a premium from a reputable company that is a little more than last year but quite acceptable.

Patrick – Just to clarify and expand you answer Which? is 100% owned bythe Consumers’ Association Ltd which is a registered charity. Most of the adverts for staff at Which? mention it is a charity.

The funding of the organisation is primarily 80% +? from the traditional subscriptions to the magazines. These have grown from one to four and it is expensive now if you wish to keep abreast of news by buying all four. However it is the very profitable part of the business as acknowledged by our CEO Peter Vicary-Smith.

Other sources of income are money from pricerunner.com and from companies that pay to exhibit the Best Buy logo however the total of these sources is not shown in the Accounts. and at the recent AGM these details were not provided in response to a direct question.

The income from magazines have funded these new commercial ventures including the failed publishing venture in India where over £14m was lost . This venture was closed last year.

I trust this clarifies the legal status for the readers. The organisation is not perfect in what it does and in it’s governance but it is currently the best thing we have.

I have made proposals for CAWiki where subjects such as this are information for “like a Wikipedia article” where the very useful and pertinent bits of good information can be plucked out and stored in a curated article.

And like the genuine Wikipedia easy to navigate with robust links.

Currently Which? is rather like the Compuserve of old where it tried to maintin a walled garden and rarely credits useful outside resources. It also seems to operate at a middling level with no links to detailed analysis nor an extremely simple explanation of car insurance and how it works. So it seems to aim to miss both ends of the market by not offering the ability to read an article at a level comfortable to readers.

Watch out for insurance companies trying to impose a charge for recording minor changes in their records.

Several years ago I arranged motor insurance and when I gave my occupation I explained that I was going to retire ten weeks after the insurance was due to start. I was asked to let them know at the time. When I called to ask for my record to be changed I was told that there would be a charge I said I was not prepared to pay the charge, having volunteered the information at the time I arranged the insurance. It is worth pointing out that the proposed charge was for administration and did not reflect any change in the risk.

Years ago I have had motor insurance companies offer me temporary cover for a hire car or put a friend on my insurance for a short period, all free of charge. I would expect to pay for this sort of service, but not just to have a minor change recorded in the company’s records.

I worked in Insurance in the Sixties. In those days, you needed 5 O levels to get in, and were expected to go to night classes for 5 years for a professional qualification.
The industry was competent, ethical, and well regarded.
It all started to change in the late Sixties and early Seventies. There was a change in civic attitude and the public started making false claims – a foreign holiday very often resulted in the ‘loss’ of a leather jacket or a camera. A burglary started to include the loss of items not actually owned by the insurer etc. After years of this statistically obvious fraud, the Insurance companies began to retaliate by behaving less ethically themselves, although still legally of course, regarding the Public in a different light not always seeking to act in their best interests, and avoiding claims payouts where possible. Within a decade the industry, previously a bastion of ‘Good Faith dealing, became commercially focused, to some extent lost interest in training staff and best practice, and reduced qualifications necessary for employment.
The result for the policyholder has probably been lower premiums in view of the commercially driven efficiency with which the Industry operates, but the experience is of dealing with a profit rather than service driven market.
A shame, but Society has changed, and a similar tale can doubtless be told of many other financial service industries.

My KIA Sportage has been insured by LV for 4 years now. I got an automatic renewal letter from LV for a premium of £516. This stated that last year’s premium was £448.
My experience of LV has been good, I have a protected NCD.
Using Moneysupermarket, I got a premium for the same car of £339.61 from LV. This was after removing my son from the named drivers which saved some £27.
I am at a loss to explain how their corporate mind works. Years ago I left Norwich Union, now Aviva for similar practices of jacking the premium every year. When phoned about it, NU said they had just revised rates for my postcode and chopped the premium by about 45%.
For your information.
Which rates LV as No 2 for car insurance.

Whilst we will take advantage of these discounts (??) that such websites offer over direct quotes it is quite wrong. My energy tariff with Scottish Power was 30% cheaper on Which?Switch and USwitch compared to what Scottish Power would offer me direct.