Price comparison site pitfalls

Getting a great deal

Price comparison site pitfalls

By Joe Elvin

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Price comparison site pitfalls

Understand what to watch out for when using the UK's most popular price comparison websites, to make sure you don't end up choosing an unsuitable service.

Policies at the top of the list of price comparison website results can include features you don't want or need, such as a large excess or add-ons you didn't ask for. 

A higher excess (the amount you pay in the event of a claim) will usually make cover cheaper, but makes claiming expensive.

As part of an August 2015 investigation, we found that some price comparison sites don’t ask about excesses - or don't ask the detail needed - but policies with a large overall excess tend to rise to the top of your results, even if you didn’t want this. 

While you can sometimes modify your excess on the results page, asking beforehand saves time, and would mean those who whizz past the quote page without realising they can tweak the results wouldn’t end up with a high excess they didn’t want.

In some cases, no information on excesses was automatically displayed on the results page.

Insurance extras

Insurers know that offering free extras makes them stand out in a list of comparison site results, and they can be a perk - if you understand the deal.

We found policies with add-ons that were free for a year, after which they automatically renew and you'll pay for them, unless you specifically ask to cancel. 

In each case, when you clicked through to the insurer's website, you could remove the free add-ons by deselecting them, but we think consumers would prefer to actively opt in so it’s totally clear.

You’d assume comparison sites would ensure that only policy elements you’ve requested are included in your cover if you have to pay extra for them, but this wasn’t always the case in our test. 

In one of our scenarios, we selected home insurance without protection for items outside the home, but on one price comparison site we were still offered policies that included this, at a cost of about £20 extra. This didn’t happen when we got quotes from the same insurers on other comparison sites.

Such errors can leave you paying for extras you don’t need.

The illusion of choice

As well as listing policies from insurers, comparison sites show quotes from brokers. In our investigation, 30 of the 60 car insurance quotes we got were from the same company, but were offered by a range of brokers, so it seemed like we had far more choice than we actually did. 

Annual vs monthly payment

Paying monthly rather than annually makes a huge difference. For car insurance, paying monthly can add more than £100, and for home cover around £20. The cheapest annual-payment policies aren’t necessarily the cheapest for paying monthly, yet the sites don’t sort quotes based on how you want to pay.

All four sites we investigated (see below) ranked car insurance based on annual payments by default, even when we wanted to pay monthly. 

Find out more: See details of our Which? Recommend Providers for car insurance and home insurance

Comparison sites compared

The August 2015 Which? investigation tested Compare the Market, Confused, Go Compare and Money Supermarket, using three scenarios for car insurance and three for home insurance, analysing 60 quotes for each.

We identified pitfalls in all four. 

Compare The Market

  • Didn't ask upfront about excesses on home-insurance policies. 
  • Didn't show the compulsory excess on home-insurance policies. 
  • Some results included unwanted paid-for extras. 
  • Didn't display annual and monthly prices side by side.

It said: 'In some cases, cover that is optional with one insurer is standard with another. It is a way for users to differentiate their products.'

Confused

  • Didn't ask upfront what excess you want on home-insurance policies. 
  • Didn't automatically display excesses on third party, fire and theft car insurance, which can be substantial. 
  • Mistakenly listed some policies as not offering personal possessions cover.

It said: 'On occasions, a provider may make a change to one of its policy details and forget to tell us, although our checks usually pick this up.'

Go Compare

  • Didn't give a breakdown of compulsory and voluntary excess on home insurance – it shows only the total excess

It said: 'We have recently enhanced how prices are presented on our car insurance results page, so that where a customer has selected that they want to pay monthly, their prices are ranked in order of total monthly instalments.’

Money Supermarket

  • Didn't ask upfront what excess you want to pay on car and home insurance

It said: 'We default our voluntary excess to £250 for comparison purposes. When researching with customers, they told us this was an amount they were willing to accept. We can’t influence the total excess, given this is a compulsory element.'

  • Last updated: March 2016    
  • Updated by: Joe Elvin