Friday, 4 March 2011

Dear Insurance Industry.....

I phoned my insurer the other day to amend my cover as we are buying a very safe, boring, MPV to accommodate our growing family. I was quoted an additional £200 to take me up to my renewal date in September, which seemed a bit steep for 6 months, but there you go. It's a slightly bigger car and so forth...

When I called back today to confirm this, I was informed that the additional premium was, in fact, £300. When I queried this, the call handler checked my records and found that the lower quote originally given reflected my status as 'married' whereas in fact, I am a co-habitee, and therefore classed as 'single'

A co-habitee, I might add, of 23 years with 2 children by the same partner, a joint mortgage taken out in 1993 and a bread-maker - how much more "responsible" does it get?

I explained that had there been an option of 'cohabiting' when I first applied for the insurance, I would have selected it, and would only have opted for 'married' as the status which most closely matched my lifestyle (and therefore insurance risk). On checking back at the website, 2 options are given: "Married or Civil Partner" (ie, a couple) or "Single" (er- single). I had made the not unreasonable presumption that what they were asking was "Are you part of a couple or on your own?", which would have made some sense in order to determine whether I was likely to go gallivanting off at high speed without a care in the world, or try and keep my family safe on the road.

Price comparison websites do give the option of 'cohabiting' and government agencies use the definition of 'living with someone as if you are married' for a whole range of benefits, taxation, etc. (for this reason, I am unable to claim JSA because of my partner's income), so why on earth should I be classed as single? I haven't been single since the 80's!

A very quick web search suggests that insurers often lower premiums for married couples as this, apparently, equates to "responsibility" regardless of the length of marriage or quality of driving. In a week that saw a challenge to the discounts applied to female drivers on the grounds of discrimination, surely it's time to look at all generic discounts which are not directly related to claims experience and risk? In an age when the pop-up ads on Facebook can be directly targeted at the individual, it should be possible for car insurance to be based on the individual's circumstances and driving history.

A friend of mine, of a similar age and with a similar vehicle and driving history, is separated from her husband but cannot afford to go through formal divorce proceedings. As a result, she can still claim to be married and receive the discount, even though she is living as a single person. True, she is no less "responsible" because of that, but then neither am I.

I have held a full UK licence for 25 years, have never had to make a claim, never had any penalty or speeding points added to my licence. My driving ability is in no way connected to my marital status, and so to penalise me for not holding a wedding certificate seems entirely nonsensical. Having said that, I'm quite used to being considered a second class citizen in the eyes of politicians and moralisers for my stand against the dubious institution of marriage; I am hoping that the pending court case regarding heterosexual civil partnerships is successful, as this far better reflects the commitment that I wish to make to my partner. Some inheritance rights would be nice, too.

I don't really complain about the cost of fuel (the price, after all, of polluting the planet) or road tax, What I do object to is the obscene amounts of money insurance companies grab from us for compulsory insurance, based on actuarial tables which deal in generalities. My Manchester post code immediately hikes up the premium, despite the fact that ours is a relatively law-abiding area without too much vehicle crime. By the standards of some of my friends, my premium is fairly low - many younger drivers, even those with excellent driving histories, are paying thousands a year just to stay on the road. And, of course, this leads to increasing numbers of uninsured drivers, thus causing a vicious cycle of rising premiums for the rest of us. The question, "Why do they charge so much?" appears to have one answer - "Because they can."

The one advantage of the 'Big Brother' level of personal information which is held about us today should surely be that goods and services can be fine-tuned to our circumstances? It would be nice to get recognition that a 48 year old co-habitee with 2 kids and a good driving record is just as good a claims risk as a 48 year old married woman with 2 kids. Since when was my driving ability determined by the man ( in my case, a non-driving man) in my life?

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