As part of an investigation into common barriers to finding affordable cover, the consumer champion gathered the experiences of 63 of its members who had experienced problems buying insurance in the past two years.
Among these members, medical conditions (22 out of 63) and age (21) were most commonly identified as being the source of their problems, and travel insurance was where they most often reported hitting barriers (26).
Price was most commonly reported as the main issue when accessing cover (31 out of 63), though around a fifth (13) said their main barrier was that few or no insurers offered any cover at all. Meanwhile, around a sixth (10) said few or no insurers offered the cover they wanted.
After medical conditions, the second most commonly flagged cause of difficulty among those surveyed was their age (21 out of 63). While travel insurance is not the only type of policy where getting older can work against you, it gets markedly more expensive and harder to find once customers pass 65 – even if they are in good health.
In separate mystery shopping research on a major comparison website, Which? found that once a travel insurance customer reached 70, not only did they have fewer quotes to choose from, but the average of their cheapest five quotes nearly doubled, compared with what they were offered at the age of 65.
Posing as a 55-year-old travel insurance customer, Which? had 76 quotes to choose from, but this tanked to just seven quotes for an 80-year-old.
The vast majority of travel insurance providers can cover medical conditions and often for a reasonable price – but severe or unpredictable conditions, such as heart disease or bipolar disorder, or an illness still in the process of being diagnosed, can send insurers running for the hills.
One Which? member said that declaring his wife’s irregular heartbeat results in ‘either a refusal to insure or astronomical premiums’ for the couple’s annual worldwide cover – with one insurer quoting as much as £3,200.
With car insurance, the presumed experience that comes with age can work in your favour – with younger drivers tending to pay the most expensive premiums. However, premiums tend to creep up again after drivers pass their mid-seventies.
One Which? member, aged 78, was surprised at being offered quotes ranging from £450 to an eye watering £2,134 for car insurance. They said: “I still run, jump in rivers and chase salmon, and run stables and horses. It’s annoying to discover that at this age you’re deemed incapable of even driving.”
Insurers feel most comfortable dealing with the familiar, which puts those who stray from the ‘norm’ at a disadvantage. Among people Which? heard from who encountered difficulties when shopping for home insurance are those with oil-powered fireplaces, listed properties, thatched roofs, more bathrooms than bedrooms, and uncommon construction materials.
Electric vehicles – owned by a steadily growing, but still small, number of drivers* – can also be difficult to insure. One Which? member said he was offered ‘wildly different premiums’ from the few insurers he found that were willing to insure his Tesla.
When Which? ran quotes on a comparison site, it was offered just 17 quotes for a Tesla Model-3 Long Range AWD, compared with 92 for an old Ford Focus Zetec.
Which? advises customers drawing a blank through comparison sites not to give up – as many specialist insurers and brokers, and even some mainstream providers, do not sell cover through them.
For help tracking down the right insurer, another port of call is the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA), which helps people find specialist brokers through the ‘find insurance’ service on its website.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:
“For many insurance customers getting insurance is straightforward – but for a small fraction, finding cover can routinely be a nightmare. However, not all hope is lost.
“If you struggle to get insurance because of medical conditions or your age, there are some resources that can help you locate specialist insurers that lie off the beaten track of comparison websites.
“If there’s relevant context to your history or circumstances that you can’t communicate on an online form – or you’re unsure how to accurately fill one out – contact the insurer directly by phone or email to speak with a human being.”
Notes to editors
In August, Which? surveyed 1,026 of its members and asked if they had had any difficulties buying insurance in the last two years. 6% (63) said yes.
Among these, price was the most commonly reported barrier (31 of 63), followed by few or no insurers offering any cover (21), followed by few or no insurers offering the cover the respondent wanted (13). 31 said their problem was ongoing.
Travel insurance was most commonly identified as the problem area – with 26 (41%) flagging it. After this came home insurance 14 (22%). The most commonly identified causes of difficulty among the group were medical history/condition 22 (35%) and age (21 – 33%).
In September, Which? used a comparison site to run quotes for an annual European policy for a customer in perfect health, changing their age each time.
Once its customer reached 70, not only did they have fewer quotes to choose from, but the average of their cheapest quotes nearly doubled, compared with what they were offered at the age of 65. As a 55-year-old, Which? had 76 quotes to choose from. But this tanked to just seven when it said it was 80.
* Source: In its Electric Car Insurance Uk Price Index, MoneySuperMarket.com reports that queries relating to electric cars accounted for 0.66% of all motor insurance enquiries made through its website in H1 2021. This has increased fourfold since 2018. https://www.
- If you struggle to get travel insurance because of medical conditions, there are some resources that can help you locate specialist insurers that lie off the beaten track of comparison websites. The FCA has created a directory of travel insurers that specialise in covering medical conditions. This is on the MoneyHelper website – https://www.moneyhelper.org.
uk/en/everyday-money/ insurance/travel-insurance- directory
- If there’s relevant context to your history or circumstances that you can’t communicate via an online insurance application form – or you’re unsure how to accurately fill one out – contact the insurer directly by phone or email to speak with a human being. The better the information they have, the more likely you are to get a fair price
- If you’re having difficulty getting affordable car insurance, there are a variety of things that could help. Our guide – how to find cheap car insurance – covers more than 15 of them
- If you’re looking for expert support, consider using a specialist broker. You can find one at biba.org.uk
- Don’t lie, or fail to disclose details you’ve been asked to provide. Doing this may bring down your quote in the short term – but could ultimately invalidate your policy and make insurance even more difficult to obtain in future.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at firstname.lastname@example.org.