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27 Jan 2020

When buying car and home insurance, don't just look at the premium

Rising excesses and fees could make a cheap policy far more expensive
Woman collecting leaking water in buckets

Think you've found a bargain insurance policy? Be warned - you could pay more than £200 to claim on your insurance, or £30 just to adjust your cover, new Which? research has found.

Working with data from Defaqto, we've found that higher insurance excesses, as well as admin fees, have become increasingly typical.

A quarter of buildings insurance policies now require you to pay at least £200 to make a claim - up from 11% in 2011.

While it can be tempting to focus just on the premium when you're shopping around for insurance, it's not necessarily the total price you'll pay.

Below, we've highlighted some of the extra car and home insurance costs to watch out for, and the tactics you can use to get a better deal.

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Cost of insurance excesses increasing

An excess is the amount you would have to pay towards an insurance claim.

The higher the excess, the less your insurer has to pay out - and the higher the barrier to you making a claim.

Policies with a standard compulsory excess of at least £100 have become much more common on buildings insurance, as the chart below shows.

Standard compulsory excesses rise

Why are insurance excesses going up?

One reason for the upwards trend is the substantial increase in the volume and value of smaller claims in some areas, according to Brian Brown, a consumer finance expert at Defaqto.

He said: 'Increasing excesses are a way to discourage very small claims, and for insurers to recoup some of their losses.

'For example, many insurers now have much larger excesses on home insurance claims for water damage.'

Defaqto's data shows that standard excesses on buildings insurance policies were most commonly between £250 and £349 last year for escape of water claims.

This is at least two-thirds more than in 2011, when the most common excess was less than £150.

Insurance admin fees

It's not just excesses where costs have increased, as insurance admin fees have also become more common, and more expensive.

Figures from Defaqto show four in 10 car insurance policies charged an adjustment fee of less than £20 (or none at all) last year, compared to six in 10 in 2011.

The amount of policies with an adjustment fee of £30 or more has jumped from 7% to 30%. Some providers charge an adjustment fee if, for example, you need to change your details.

And this isn't the only fee you could encounter with car insurance.

The percentage of policies that charge at least £50 for cancelling after the cooling-off period has more than doubled, from a quarter in 2011, to half in 2019.

An increasing number of insurers now charge setup and renewal fees, which are separate from the premium.

Defaqto's Brian Brown believes that the rise of price comparison sites has played a big part in this increase in fees.

'Most customers now buy through these sites, where a priority for the insurer is to keep the premium low to compete. This means some of the cost is being transferred to fees and charges.'

How to get the best car and home insurance deals

It's important to look past the premium when you're shopping around for car or home insurance.

A policy that looks cheap at first could turn out to be expensive if it comes with high excesses and fees.

Below we've put together some tips on how to get the best deal on your insurance.

1. Set the right level of excess

If you set the voluntary excess too high, it could make a claim not worth pursuing, especially when you also take into account the compulsory excess set by the insurer.

'Often reducing an excess to a much lower amount can be done in exchange for paying just a few more pounds in the premium,' said Brown.

2. Check what cover you'll pay for

We've analysed dozens of car and home insurance policies, including the excesses and fees you'll pay, to find which providers offer the best cover.

3. Use multiple comparison sites

Some insurers don't feature on every site. By using multiple sites, you can compare even more quotes.

Some providers (such as Aviva, Direct Line and NFU Mutual) don't appear on comparison sites, so it's worth checking these, too.

4. Haggle if you're renewing

If you're staying with the same insurer, you might be able to get a cheaper renewal premium - and for the same amount of cover - by haggling.

We've put together a tried-and-tested script to haggling you can follow.

  • Based on original reporting in Which? Money Magazine. The full investigation appeared in the February 2020 issue. You can try Which? Money today for just £1 to have our impartial, jargon-free insight delivered to your door every month.