Wednesday 20 August 2014

The spawn of the devil is called Ibert

At 03.38 on Monday morning I received an email from my motor insurer with the first good news I had received in weeks.

The renewal premium on my wife’s car, at £533, would be £130 cheaper than it was last year.

Even better than that, I had remembered to turn my iPhone to silent when I went to bed, so I wasn’t rudely awaken by the ping of an incoming message. Thereby saving a further £500 on replacing a phone smashed by being hurled against the bedroom wall.

These combined fragments of positivity put me into as near as I ever get to a chipper mood until the insurer emailed again, at 09.29, to advise that on second thoughts my premium would be £930.34.

Oh no! (By the way, Churchill is not the guilty party.)

I was flabbergasted. Even one of our Big Six energy companies would surely hesitate before trying on a 75% price hike in just six hours.

So I rang to enquire why, running the inevitable gauntlet of multiple choice questions and a long period listening to music while periodically hearing about the “unusually high call volumes at present” that just happen to be equally unusual at whatever time of day one rings.

Plus, of course, the assurance that “your call is important to us”. Just not important enough, clearly, for them to employ a few more people to answer the phones.

I finally got through on the premium rate number just as someone infinitely more important called me on my mobile, leaving me with no choice but to cut him off or start the whole rigmarole again.

I asked which of the two quotes I had received that morning was correct and I’m sure the answer will surprise you. It was the higher one. And the reason for it was: “You’ve made a claim.”

Well, technically I hadn’t but my wife had. Because last week she had stopped in the narrow lane by our house to let an oncoming tractor pass, as it sped home with the harvest, and its trailer had swung out and struck the back of her car.

It was only a minor scrape and ordinarily we would have sorted it out ourselves rather than making an insurance claim, because the repairs will almost certainly cost less then our £400 policy excess. But this particular incident clearly wasn’t my wife’s fault, given that her car was stationary at the time, and the tractor driver had stopped to admit liability. So why should we pay anything at all?

Yet eerily we end up £400 worse off because our insurance company chooses to treat all claims as being its customers’ fault until proven otherwise.

This is, apparently, “standard practice” in the industry.

Not guilty, either. Not of overcharging me, at any rate.

But my wife has a “protected no claims discount”. Doesn’t that prevent this sort of thing? Don’t be daft. Paying extra to protect your discount is just another money-making wheeze perpetrated on mugs like us.

I have noticed over the years that insurers only offer attractive or even reasonable premiums to potential new customers, and punish loyalty by ratcheting up renewal premiums to the maximum. My initial email can only have been generated by a malfunctioning computer.

They then express surprise when the customer rings up to cancel their policy, and protest that a much more reasonable quote could have been offered if only the customer had bothered to ask for it.

They also ensure that the cost of any claim is clawed back in full through increased premiums on renewal.

People regularly express amazement that I never, ever buy any form of insurance that is not required by law, so perhaps there are some satisfied customers out there, happy to have “the strength of the insurance companies around them”, as the old adverts used to claim.

But for me they are and will always remain right up there at the top of the league table of corporate villainy, along with the wicked BERT quadruplets: Banks, Energy, Rail and Telecoms.

Calm down, dear. It's only money!
Comically, at the end of my call they asked me to hang on and answer some questions about how satisfied I was with their service. I can only conclude that they must have a profitable sideline recording new obscenities for Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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