Lifestyle

Friday 19 September 2014

Rising car insurance is driving me up the wall

John Meagher's motor insurance has gone up 50pc, and he's not happy about it

There's silence on the other end of the line and then a thunderous tapping of a computer keyboard. "We can offer you fully comprehensive for €1,404," the help centre person tells me cheerfully. "Do you want to take that?"

Given that price was almost double the offer I'd been given by my existing insurer, I tell him thanks, but no thanks. I put a line through Aviva Insurance, and brace myself for the next insurer on my list.

On November 11 each year, my motor insurance comes up for renewal and the preceding days never fail to be stressful and frustrating.

It's been particularly bad this year, ever since the email arrived from 123.ie offering me a quote that was 50pc more expensive then the one I'd already been paying.

Even though nothing had changed in the 12 months since last renewing with 123.ie – save becoming a year older and the car's value depreciating, as most family saloons do – I was facing the prospect of my premium jumping from €501.08 to €750.56.

I phoned a succession of people at 123.ie to try to get an answer as to why my premium should jump by such an amount and all the answers were unsatisfactory. One person suggested it may be because of an EU directive that meant greater parity between the genders, and consequently my wife – as named driver – could be pushing the price up.

Another suggested a contributory factor could be the age of my car – it's six years old, not 16. And yet another tried to placate me by suggesting that some people had seen their premiums rise by 200pc – as if that was going to make my own situation any better.

I simply cannot understand how, as a 38-year-old male and the holder of a full driver's licence for almost 20 years, the premium could jump by such an amount – it's not as if I'm a boy racer and there have been no road misdemeanours whatsoever. And the car is hardly a Ferrari – an unmodified 2007 BMW 3 Series, it is one of the most common marques on the roads of Ireland.

But my attempts to get a better price off rival insurers have proved useless so far. Axa have come closest to matching the 123 price, but at €800 the quotation is still €50 more. "That's the very best we can do," says the representative, easily the friendliest and most efficient of those I have spoken to this week.

This week, it emerged that RSA – through 123.ie – had hiked their prices up by 13pc and there are legitimate fears that other insurers will follow suit.

An increase in the number of claims – a feature of recession life – is regularly cited as a reason for the more expensive premiums, be they motor, home, health, whatever. But consumer rights bodies and the Personal Injuries Board say the rise in such claims is not sufficiently high to justify the huge increases.

I speak to Pat Nally, the public relations officer for RSA, and he cites "ratings actions" and "general rate application" as key reasons for the price increases. "We have to protect our book of business," he says. "It is a free market place."

That may be the case, but it's not a market place that's a very pretty one for the Irish motorist right now. Not for the first time, I've questioned the need to own a car. As a Dublin resident, who lives a 20-minute cycle away from the office, I rarely need to use the car. With the exception of weekly grocery trips and visits to my parents down the country, all my driving is recreational. It certainly helps to have a car when you have an 18-month-old daughter, but it's not absolutely essential. I could imagine surviving without one – although it would hurt my ego.

The recession has ensured that car ownership has got more expensive than ever. Not only have insurance rates gone up, but so too has tax (and it really sticks in my craw that my annual tax would be halved were I wealthy enough to own the very same car if it was registered on July 2008 or after), and, of course, fuel. I've seen petrol prices go through the roof in the past five years and while it appears to have stabilised for now, who knows how long that will last?

I've already dispensed with health insurance because I would struggle to make the €1,000 annual payment but there's no such luxury when it comes to motoring. If you don't have insurance, you can't legally drive.

Despite my fury, there's every chance that I'll have little option financially but to take up the 123.ie offer. And that will be really hard to swallow.

Irish Independent

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