Like thousands of Irish drivers, my annual car insurance ordeal began this year with the arrival of my renewal letter.
My policy is managed by Chill Insurance and in their letter, they assured me that they’d get me the “best policy at the right price”.
The letter didn’t express any of the usual “delight” that I’ve come to expect from Chill after years as a customer, but the next few lines explained why:
“Unfortunately your existing insurers are withdrawing this product from the market and therefore will not be offering renewal terms for the coming year.”
And then they said:
“We wish to confirm, that after speaking with the Leading Insurers we have identified a price of: €1370.20 with AXA Insurance Ltd”
And there it was. €1,370 to insure my car this year.
My insurance premium was €917 last year, and €480 the year before. And now I’m being told by Chill Insurance that the “best policy at the right price” would cost €1,370, which is a staggering €890 more that I paid for the same level of insurance on the same car just two years ago.
In the last two years, I have not had any accidents and I have not made any claims. I do not have any points on my license and I have a near-maximum no-claims discount. I would consider that my level of risk has reduced and yet the cost of insuring my car has gone up by a extraordinary 185%.
I was so disappointed by this renewal letter that I promptly sent an email to my broker Chill Insurance, and my existing insurer, KennCo Insurance. In it I said that I considered the renewal letter contained a refusal to provide insurance, I wanted to know the reason for this (as KennCo certainly seemed to be still trading), and I did not accept “withdrawing this product” as a valid reason.
Chill responded with an email explaining that Zenith, who were the underwriters of my KennCo policy, had withdrawn from the Irish market, and so the product was no longer available.
KennCo has other products, said the Chill rep, but in this case AXA was cheaper. He was also very clear to state that neither KennCo nor Chill were refusing me renewal terms.
Well if KennCo were not refusing to renew, I want to know what their terms were. So I emailed Chill back and said: “I have been a KennCo customer for the last five years and have been generally satisfied with their service, so please advise of KennCo's renewal terms.”
In his response, the Chill rep said, “Unfortunately in this case KennCo’s acceptance criteria doesn’t cater for cars of that age.”
Well, my car is old and I know that this is a reason that myself and thousands of other drivers are being penalised by the insurance industry, but there it was, confirmed in writing by Chill.
So, after saying that KennCo was not refusing me renewal terms, Chill was now saying that KennCo was, in fact, refusing me renewal terms. And with that, the Chill rep directed me to the AXA policy costing €1,370 again.
Well, I wasn’t going to accept this ludicrous premium hike lying down, so I put in some spade work to see if I could dig up some savings.
First stop was AXA because they were the company Chill was directing me to, and I wanted to see if I could beat the Chill quote by going direct. Their online quote machine took a ton of sensitive information from me and came back with “We’re sorry… but we are unable to complete your quote online.” Ugh… not a good start.
But if AXA were prepared to quote me through Chill, surely they could do it directly too? So I called them and got a nice chap on the phone who quoted me €990 for fully comp. That’s a whopping €380 cheaper than Chill quoted and I could not discern any major difference in the cover. So very good result after all.
Next was 123.ie. Their online quote engine also took a large amount of sensitive information too, and came back with “We're sorry, we are unable to provide you with an online quotation. The car is outside acceptance criteria.”
I found this infuriating. Not because of the refusal, but because 123.ie asked for the car’s registration number at the start of the online process and were able to identify the car’s make and model right away. So they could easily have said that the car was outside their acceptance criteria at the start, but they didn’t. Instead, they took sensitive personal details and did not even return a quote.
Liberty were next. I decided not to bother with their online form because of the previous two, so I called them instead, and after a bit of horse-trading I was offered a quote of €1,000, again for fully comp, and again substantially cheaper than my renewal letter.
And then a funny thing happened. I got an email from KennCo, and they told me that they had in fact offered renewal terms to Chill. Which was very interesting indeed because Chill had clearly stated that they had not.
So I got back on to Chill and pointed out that KennCo was contradicting their renewal letter and their emails, and I asked them for an explanation.
I got an answer from the Chill rep that said: “I have referred this onto KennCo now to see if I can clear up the issue.”
And that was it. No further correspondence from Chill Insurance*.
So, after days of silence from Chill, KennCo offered to process the policy directly. They quoted me €715 for comprehensive insurance, and although it has a higher excess than my old policy, it is still a staggering €655 cheaper than my renewal letter. And amazingly, it's much cheaper than last year too.
So, yes, it is still possible to get cheaper car insurance. I reduced mine from an eye-watering €1,370 to a quite reasonable €715. It was a bit of hassle, but well worth it. The key is not to treat your renewal letter like a bill that needs to be paid, but instead it should be treated like a price guide or a line in the sand. It’s the highest price you’ll pay for your car insurance this year, and it’s up to you to see if you can beat that quote and pay less.
*Before posting this article today, I sent a copy to Chill Insurance to see if they would like to comment. I received a response from their Head of Compliance and in her email she detailed the steps that led to my renewal offer with AXA, confirmed that Zenith (the underwriter of my KennCo policy) was no longer offering insurance in Ireland, and said:
"KennCo were not in a position to issue renewal terms for your policy on the 1st February when your renewal was reviewed. I can confirm we have no record of receiving renewal terms from KennCo for your policy, despite their email to you in February 2017. I apologise for the lack of follow through from Chill Insurance in relation to your renewal, we should have been back in touch with you as promised in our emails in February."
The answer is that we are working on one. The time is right. Insurance customers are tired of escalating renewal quotes and having to fight every year to get a fair price. They want proper transparent car insurance comparison services.
Car insurance comparison services would mean that drivers would not have to go though the lengthy and arduous process of ringing around, visiting websites and talking to brokers in an attempt to beat ridiculous renewal quotes every year. An Irish car insurance comparison service would encourage competition and offer transparency in a market that consumers find stressful, opaque and difficult to navigate. It would help consumers easily find the cheapest car insurance for the type of cover that they want. It would also help customers to see smaller insurance companies that have good rates but don't have huge marketing budgets. But there aren't any UK-style car insurance comparison services in Ireland... yet.
They will come though. There's huge demand. We know becuase we get asked about it all the time. That's why we're working on it and really look forward to bringing it to the Irish market. But there is resistance from the insurance industry. They just don't seem to be as excited about a market where customers have access to clear and transparent car insurance comparison services as we are...
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