Insurance idiocy

Jemma Hawtry 

A crashed BMW
A crashed BMW

This piece is going to be a little less light-hearted than my other blog articles. Anyone who has access to a vehicle has to fulfil several legal requirements. Most of us know them off by heart: 

1.    up to date and valid driver’s licence
2.    MoT Certificate should the vehicle require it
3.    ownership documents
4.    insurance 

Most of these make perfect sense, although I do have issues with a couple of them. It is a very good idea that we have the MoT test – having driven in other countries that don’t have this sort of testing, I can say, from personal experience, that an automatic with a box full of neutrals or a people carrier that insists that it is trying to do a passable impression of a side-slipping Spitfire MkIX are not the most pleasant vehicles to drive. I honestly don’t think the concept of tracking and balanced tyres exists in the US… 

However, my biggest problem is with insurance. Legally we have to have it,  but it’s basically legal gambling at best, at worst it’s worthless… 

I have no problem with the idea of paying a given amount to a third party to provide a service but, in all the time I have been driving, I have never had a satisfactory result to a claim. Personally, I consider this nothing more or less than a stealth tax on drivers, since the amazing legal fictions these companies come up with to get out of paying have to be seen to be believed. 

The one time I did get partial satisfaction from my insurance company it was as a result of being hit from behind by an idiot who was driving up to a T-Junction while chatting on a mobile ‘phone – that was a decade ago and I still have constant pain because of it. 

The result? £2000 ‘compensation’ and a repair job that my grandmother could have managed better with pattern parts, which may have used a pattern, but it was more likely one related to dress making, and bare metal left to rust. 

We are now, in my area, paying 120p per litre for basic 95 RON unleaded petrol – of which more than 50% is tax. I am paying £240 in road tax for a year on  the car I am running at the moment and so it goes on – ad nauseous. I am now dealing with a insurance company and broker that will remain nameless for legal reasons, who think that it’s OK to ask an individual personal questions that have no relation to driving or insurance and then threaten the customer that they won’t be covered if they don’t answer (even though the questions are illegal under UK law). They also think that it’s a wonderful idea to get every single thing they can find wrong – and charge me accordingly. 

I have been told repeatedly regarding this situation that I am covered while all this is going on… Can you guess what’d happen were I to make a claim?

Yep, that’s right – suddenly I wouldn’t be covered… and I would never have been covered. It’s not that I mind paying for car insurance – even if it is nothing more than a legal sucker bet, a bet in which you are being offered odds on the basis that something nasty is going to happen to you and possibly your friends and loved ones who are in the vehicle with you as a consequence of your own or another’s actions. 

No, what I do take exception to though is when I pay for a service from a company that is then allowed to hide behind all sorts of tenuous excuses as to why it isn’t going to pay and then, by the way, raises your premiums because someone drove into you. I also take exception when it seems that all the monies I pay in tax on fuel and road tax and all the other related taxes (under which I include insurance) – and the roads are utterly atrocious. Potholes deep enough to rip tyres apart and bend wheels – surfaces that are uneven and breaking up, so are dangerous in wet or icy weather. 

Politically, I am a liberal person. I don’t like the idea of police and politicians going on about terrorism to scare us into giving away our human rights. I don’t like the idea that a Government, which has 30% of 15% of the vote, can be considered to be legitimate – we have invaded other countries for less… 

However, I like it less when private companies can make massive profits on what is little more than legal gambling, set up to benefit them, based on a legal requirement that no-one can escape and not be branded a criminal. This would be bad enough if there was a good public transport system. Yes, I know that there will be people taking exception to this comment but, in my experience, public transport is pretty miserable and limited. 

An example: 

The journey from Colchester to Brookmans Park, which is just outside Hertford, is about 65 miles one way. By car it takes about an hour or so with a good run.  It is physically impossible to get from one to the other using public transport. 

It simply cannot be done – believe me we tried for almost a week to work it out and there was no way of getting from one to the other using public transport. You could say it’s not really important, but it is if you live in Colchester and work in Brookmans Park. The best we could manage was a journey that would take 5 hours and end up in Hertford, with no way of getting to the destination other than a taxi. 

There are places in my town that do not have a bus more than 3 times in a day – then you have to factor getting to the transport hub in the first place (in this case the bus station) – when you are being charged £3 to do 2 miles… 

I think it’s time that the Government was forced to set maximum levels for car insurance premiums based on the engine size for example – and forced to control the industry better so that the policy-holder is treated properly and actually gets something out of the policy they paid for. People are left with all sorts of financial problems and could loose jobs and livelihood if these companies write off or refuse to repair a car when the customer cannot afford a replacement – that seems to be happening far too often at the moment. 

As it stands, the car insurance industry is of no benefit to anyone other than the car insurance industry. They try every single method possible for getting out of paying up, even when they have witness statements and other evidence, so the customer doesn’t benefit. Given that the industry is dominated by large corporations, it’s a good bet that they are finding ways to avoid paying their taxes, therefore the Government doesn’t really benefit. 

All in all, it could easily be said that anyone who has vehicle insurance or, indeed, any type of insurance is paying a stealth tax to the insurance companies, nothing more, nothing less… 

I therefore guess the question is: how long are we going to let this continue?

Keith Adams


  1. I don’t think there is Dave.

    I agree wholeheartedly with most of the ‘general’ comments regarding fuel duty, state of roads etc. but I know for sure that insurance companies are not making ‘huge profits’ – far from it.

    Indeed, it is the insurers who are being scammed by massively inflated claims and that is the reason premiums are increasing. You want to try being your own insurer and paying for the damage to your car, a third party vehicle, property damage or (heaven forbid) an injured person – balance that against your £400 annual premium.

    Incidentally, if you’re crying about your premiums now you’ll be in floods of tears this time next year as premiums are set to hike massively, across the board. We’ve had it easy and cheap for years thanks to rampant competition, but that is about to come to an abrupt end.

    Sounds like you’ve had an unfortunate incident with an insurer, probably as a result of paying pennies for the cheapest cover, not reading the small print yet expecting the Earth in return. That’s a shame, but tough luck. Seek advice from the Financial Ombudsman Service if you have a genuine complaint.

    Always a treat to see a picture of a stuffed BMW – I might set that as my computer wallpaper – but your generalised comments about insurers are ill-informed and incorrect.

  2. Admittedly, this article does seem like a bit of an aimless rant but I do agree with most of the points and would add that, although an unknown new 17 year old male driver is almost certainly a higher risk than the equivalent female, once you have built up your own record gender should be a non-issue.

    Personally, I have driven 10 years without a claim though, due to not insuring a car for a couple of years, only have 2 years no claims and drive a car worth £400.

    Why, then, is my premium always higher than younger drivers’, dangerous drivers’ with claims and convictions and those driving far more valuable vehicles?

  3. @John Greenwood
    I don’t think so John. I guess you work in said industry but then so did I.

    The insurance industry has in reality NEVER made a loss (ignore the company bleating because it’s had to pay out X amount in a ‘bad year’). However, they have seen, in a number of years, a drop in profits, which has always been used as an excuse to hike up premiums. If PI claims are being a problem, then it’s time they actually fought some of them instead of rolling over and paying up which is their normal modus operandi in such situations.

    IMHO the Australian system would sort a lot out. Basic third party cover is part of what we would see as the ‘tax disc’. Anything extra you have to arrange yourself and, as it would no longer be a requirement, the price would drop like a stone.

  4. Interesting points made by all and, yes, I do work for an insurance company. Reading back, it would appear I had a bit of a rant myself – sorry about that.

    I do find it frustrating when the insurer is constantly given the image of a thief which I have never found to be true. However, I agree the majority of companies will have customers with genuine complaints that need to be addressed and there are routes that can be taken.

    Stewart – comments taken on board, but you say you used to work in insurance. Times have changed, investments have failed (the same as everyone else), the cost of claims has rocketed (your suggestion of fighting claims would simply bring about more costs when the courts will inevitably find in favour of the injured party) and premiums have been forced down by competition. Insurance companies have been making steady losses over a number of years and not just through road risks – it’s everywhere and ultimately we will all need to pay the price through increased premiums.

    Nathan – I sympathise with your situation but, if you’ve been driving for 10 years claim free, most insurers would take your age and experience into account when providing a quotation. If you believe you are paying more than younger drivers or those who are dangerous drivers with convictions, you are looking in the wrong places. Why not try getting in touch with their insurers? Sounds like they’ll be paying you! I’m 34 years old with 6 years NCD, one fault accident but no convictions. I drive an ST220 V6 petrol Mondeo and pay £425 fully comprehensive with a £150 excess. I’m happy with the premium and, no, I don’t get a staff discount.

  5. Whilst there was a lot of waffle in this piece, it has, at least, brought out some useful information in the Readers’ comments!

    Like any industry, those that work in insurance will no doubt see a lot more than the general public will or can even percieve.

    I thought I was paying a lot for my ZS at about £500 a year including protected NCD and legal cover but, when I hear what some teenagers and early 20-somethings are getting quoted for stock classic Minis, I reckon that I’m not doing too badly!

    My only gripe with insurance companies is, as others have said, the extraordinary efforts they will go to to hang on to their cash. My ZS got hit by a hire van last year and I got settled pretty quick by my Insurers.

    However, the 3rd party’s Insurers are responsible for me receiving regular updates by post of what legal steps my Insurer’s Solicitors are taking to recover the cash back for a claim where the driver admitted fault (even in writing via a note left on my windscreen!)

    As far as compulsory insurance goes, I would like the companies to divert some of their profits to funding a network of ANPR cameras throughout the country to catch all the folk who blatantly flout the law by driving uninsured. Unless the Police actually tail and check out a car there is no way to monitor uninsured cars and drivers. I’m sure the Insurers fork out loads of cash for claims for accidents caused by uninsureds and, if there was a way to get more of them off the road, they would benefit in the long run.

  6. If your version of events is accurate, I can’t see any “legal reasons” for not naming the company in question.

    Having lived in Australia, I agree with another contributor who points out that in Australia the compulsory component of car insurance, i.e. third party insurance, is provided as part of the annual road tax. It should be the same in the UK.

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