When fairness is at a premium

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Normally I love this time of year. But there’s one thing about it I absolutely dread. Because now’s the time I have to renew my house insurance. And there’s no getting away from it – it’s an odious process.

Put simply, I really resent the fact that you have to fight tooth and nail to get a fair deal. To duck and dive, like some modern-day Arthur Daley, dodging red-herring prices and other financial pratfalls, from companies who are basically trying it on.

It’s all a game to them, isn’t it? If I was in a Middle Eastern souk, then I’d expect to have to haggle for my goods. But I’m only trying to buy insurance! Why can’t they be upfront about it, and offer a fair price to a loyal customer?

Here’s what happens. Your existing insurer sends you a renewal price which, after just 12 months, and no claims or change of circumstances, has suddenly gone up from £95 to £122.45.

Meanwhile, the company you have your car insurance with have sent you no less than three letters, offering you an “estimated” premium of only £76. Crikes alive! That sounds better, doesn’t it? So armed with your own special-offer reference number, you ring them.

For starters, the reference number turned out to be rubbish, because they never did want it. No. It was just another little ploy to encourage you to call, and face the insurance version of the Spanish Inquisition, from scratch, as if they’d never heard of you before.

Twenty-five minutes of interrogation later, and you feel as if you’ve been put through the wringer – not least because they pounce on what they perceive as the slightest inaccuracy, in what is a long, long list of very detailed questions (the answers to all of which you’re expected to know off the top of your head).

What year was your house built? Er, 1997, I think. No, wait – put the ‘90s, I’m not completely sure. Ha! He is lying! He tries to trick and deceive! What year, precisely! Tell me! Tell me! All right, all right, I’ll look it up! There ... 1994. I was all of three years out! Jeez, Louise!

At the end of all this – and after you’ve beaten off attempts to add emergency cover and legal cover – you finally get their best price. It’s not “£76” at all. It’s ... £116.59! Oh well, only FORTY QUID difference!

Incensed, you go on to a comparison website, and get a best quote of ... £95.77! Now that’s better!

So you go back to your existing insurer, to see if they can match it. They, you will recall, want to raise the current premium of £95 to £122.45 ... but confronted with competition, they’re suddenly able to magically drop this to £101. Well, who would have thought it??

And I loved the way they triumphantly presented me with this, expecting me to accept it – even though I’d just told them I’d already got a cheaper quote!

Why does it have to be like this? Is it really too much to expect a fair and honest price, upfront? Rather than a needlessly inflated one, in the hope that people will be too lazy – or unwilling to fight – to better it?