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Car insurers are cheating older drivers

Last month, I wrote Britain's most annoying drivers covering research which revealed that more than two-fifths (41%) of British adults believe the over-60s to be the UK's most irritating motorists.

Personally, I was surprised and a little shocked at this lack of respect for our nation's older generation. What's more, this widely held prejudice simply isn't supported by statistical evidence. Indeed, Which? research recently revealed that older drivers -- notably 81 to 85 year olds -- are less likely to claim against their car insurance than younger motorists.

In an ideal world, all drivers would be judged purely on their driving abilities and not merely on their age. However, discrimination against older motorists is still widespread, particularly among car insurers.

Driving up premiums

As well as facing harsh criticism from the public, older Brits also routinely face discrimination when it comes to car insurance. In fact, insurance companies systematically over-charge older drivers for their policies, despite an industry-wide agreement not to discriminate on grounds of age.

Last month, Which? research revealed that older drivers frequently face quotes for car insurance 50% to 74% higher than those given to drivers aged 41 to 45. In addition, when older drivers do make claims, these cost just 2% more on average.

Insurers are excluded from obeying the Equality Act 2010 (which bans unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services). However, they must produce yearly data on claims frequency and size by age in order to justify charging higher premiums to senior motorists.

Since 6th April, members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) have agreed with the Government to improve access to motor and travel insurance for older customers.

Under this Age Agreement, all insurance providers who do not provide insurance because they apply age restrictions must 'signpost’ customers to an alternative appropriate provider which does not impose age restrictions. Sadly, Which? found that top insurer Direct Line was not properly signposting older motorists, forcing the firm to take corrective action.

Even so, almost half of major British insurers refuse to cover drivers aged 85 and over, depriving them of their right to be mobile and on the road.

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Give older drivers a fair deal

It seems blatantly unfair that older drivers are habitually turned down or charged much more for car insurance, given the lack of concrete proof that they cause more accidents and generate far larger claims.

Then again, this age discrimination has created a profitable opportunity for companies that cater specifically to Britain's over-50s, such as Saga Group, Age UK and Staysure. For example, Age UK has 1,673 drivers aged 100 and over on its books -- 13.2% of the estimated 12,640 centenarians in the UK -- and is quite happy to take on this risk. Saga has around 6,000 drivers aged 91 and over.

Earlier this year, well-known insurer LV= went against the grain by scrapping its age limit for car insurance customers. Having previously refused to cover drivers beyond the age of 86, LV now has no upper age limit for car insurance (and travel cover, too).

Greying Britain

For me, it seems crazy to discriminate against our 'golden generation', as this is one of the richest and fastest-growing segments of British society. What's more, thanks to medical advances and lifestyle improvements, many Brits remain healthy, independent and mobile well into their eighties and beyond.

Right now, about a sixth (16%) of the UK population is over 65. However, thanks to the post-war 'baby boom', this proportion is set to rise to a quarter (25%) by 2023. Tthere are now a record 3.8 million over-70s with driving licences.

Included in this large group are some of this nation's most careful, capable and experienced drivers. Therefore, it is grossly unfair to stereotype all older motorists as slow, poorly sighted and unresponsive while on the road.

I sincerely hope that the Competition Commission's inquiry into the market for car insurance will also investigate age discrimination against older drivers. Otherwise, millions of perfectly competent older motorists will continue to be ripped off by greedy insurance companies!

Older drivers seeking specialist advice on car insurance can visit the BIBA website or call its Find a Broker line on 0870 950 1790 (alternative geographical number: 020 7397 0205).

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