Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Compensation culture 'raising car insurance premiums'

Car accident
Not all car accidents lead to major injury, the AA says

Compensation culture is partly to blame for a record rise in car insurance premiums in the last year, the AA has said.

Personal injury claims were becoming "increasingly embedded in British culture" often as a result of lawyers' adverts, it claimed.

The typical annual comprehensive car insurance premium rose 18.7% in 2009 to above £1,000, the AA's figures show.

That was the biggest jump since the index started in 1994.

Rising numbers

Average comprehensive cover increased in price by 7.2% in the final three months of 2009, the AA's British Insurance Premium Index revealed.

Average comprehensive car insurance: £1,000
Average third party, fire and theft premium: £1,252
Average home buildings insurance: £199
Average home contents insurance: £113
Source: AA

Even when searching for the cheapest premium on offer, the cost rose by 11.3% to £613.

Meanwhile, the average third party, fire and theft premium rose by 8.9% in the final quarter of the year, pushing it up to £1,252. The cheapest offer was £788, up 13.9%.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, said that insurers had been struggling to deal with disappearing reserves at a time when settlement costs and personal injury claims had risen.

"Many people seem willing to pursue claims for even minor injuries, such as mild whiplash pain that in the past they would not have bothered claiming for," he said.

"This is encouraged by personal injury claims lawyers whose marketing urges people to make claims and whose costs, as well as compensation for the claim, are met by the third party insurer.

"This is becoming increasingly embedded in British culture and, ultimately, feeds back to premiums."

Home insurance

Mr Douglas said that fraud was also contributing to the rising costs, putting an extra £2bn a year onto premiums.

Car wing mirror
Insurance costs are rising on average in the UK

The cheapest deals were drying up, he said, with fewer attractive introductory offers. This was because most people now shopped around when renewing insurance claims, rather than being loyal to their existing provider.

Young people were bearing the brunt of the price rises. They typically bought third party, fire and theft cover, which on average rose in price over 2009 by 23.8%. The cheapest offer rose by 33%.

Wales and Scotland saw the smallest increase in premiums compared with the rest of the UK.

Mr Douglas said he expected car insurance premiums to rise in 2010, although this should level off in the second half of the year.

It was not just car owners who faced rising bills.

The average premium for annual home buildings insurance rose by 10.5%, and contents insurance was up by 7.7% in 2009.

The rising cost of repairing buildings and the frequency of claims, which included flood damage, pushed up costs.

Separately, Age Concern claimed half of motor insurers and a third of travel insurers automatically excluded people aged over 80 seeking quotes, irrespective of their health status.

"We accept age should sometimes be taken into account in pricing insurance, but automatic age limits completely undermine the message the Equality Bill is supposed to be sending," said head of public policy Andrew Harrop.

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