Auto-renewing car insurance costs Brits £1.3bn a year

Loyalty does not pay. That’s the stark message to emerge from MoneySuperMarket research into automatic car insurance renewals.

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We reckon that nearly six million drivers are throwing away at least £113 each by not shopping around for a better deal at renewal. That means UK motorists are wasting £1.3 billion each year by staying loyal and allowing their car insurance to automatically renew, at a price of their insurer’s choosing.

We’ve launched an eight-point auto renewal action plan, challenging the insurance industry to clean up its act when renewing insurance.

Our report reveals that, every year, 23% of drivers – almost six million in total – automatically renew their car insurance with their existing provider when their policy is up for renewal, without checking a single quote from another provider.

Protection problem

And it’s not just a financial problem. As well as leaving drivers paying too much, auto-renewal could be locking them into policies that don’t provide adequate protection, or are even completely invalid.

The prime benefit of auto-renewal is that it prevents drivers from accidentally becoming uninsured, which is illegal. But our findings raise serious questions over whether auto-renewal is working in the best interests for motorists.

The report reveals that, in most cases, drivers are not asked when taking out a policy online whether they want it to auto-renew after the first year.

Without consent

Instead, by entering credit or debit card details, customers are signed up to make a further payment for year after year, without giving any further consent or approval. There is often no way of opting in or out of auto-renewal when you buy your policy online.

We also found that renewal notices can be unclear and confusing because:

-They often don’t include last year’s premium, leaving the customer unable to see easily how the costs differ. Some insurers even appear to select which customers they will inform of last year’s premium and which ones they’ll leave in the dark.

-Changes to the policy, such as removing breakdown cover or rise in the level of excess payable, are hidden in the small print. If customers don’t find this information, they could end up under-uninsured or with an invalid policy.

-The language used, including phrases such as ‘Happy Anniversary’ or ‘You do not need to do anything’, is designed to coax customers into taking no action, and simply paying the price insurers want them to.

Additionally, the research shows that cancelling an auto-renew policy can be difficult and costly, with some providers charging cancellation fees or obliging customers to use expensive premium rate telephone numbers. Some renewal notices issued online do not then allow cancellation through the same medium.

Vulnerable consumers

And it seems that vulnerable sections of society, such as older people, those on low incomes and those that don’t have internet access are most likely to be adversely affected by auto-renewal. For example, over 55s are significantly more likely than the younger age groups to auto-renew for numerous consecutive years.

in most cases, drivers are not asked when taking out a policy online whether they want it to auto-renew after the first year..

Dan Plant, editor-in-chief at MoneySuperMarket, said: “As our report lays bare, auto-renewal is far from fair, it reduces proper competition and ultimately costs consumers big money.

“Often people have no idea that they’re agreeing to auto-renewal when they first buy their insurance policy, and would struggle to opt out even if they did. When renewal time comes around, the letter or email they get from their insurer can be confusing and misleading, and even bury significant changes to their policy. If you don’t want to renew your policy, cancelling can also prove difficult.

“This might not matter if auto-renewing didn’t cost us, individually and as a nation, so much. With an average saving of at least £113 if someone hasn’t switched for a couple of years, most people are better off not letting their insurance policy roll-over automatically. And the over-55s, those with less money, and people not on the internet suffer more than most.“As a country, we spend over £1.3 billion more than we need to just because so many car insurance policies renew automatically – that’s money many can’t afford to waste.”

To address the current failings in the auto-renewal process, and to tilt the balance of fairness back towards the consumer, MoneySuperMarket challenges the insurance industry to adopt eight simple best practice recommendations:

1. Consumers should be clearly asked whether they want to opt-in to auto-renewal when first buying their policy;

2. Renewal notices should be in plain English;

3. Last year’s policy price should be displayed clearly on your renewal notice, next to the new price;

4. Any significant changes to policies – such as the imposition of a larger excess or removal of breakdown cover – should be clearly displayed on renewal notices;

5. Renewal notices should prominently warn customers they must inform insurers of any changes in their circumstances, such as a new address, change in job, annual mileage or points on their licence;

6. Renewal quotes should clearly include proof of any No Claims Bonus, to enable easy switching to alternative policies;

7. Once a customer has renewed, they must be prominently told about the cooling off period, during which it should be free to cancel;

8. Cancelling auto-renewal should be really simple when a renewal is received, such as a click-through button on emails or a simple cancellation form sent with the letter.

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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