How I was nearly left without car insurance

29 October 2015
In late-July 2015, my wife and I renewed our car insurance policy with General Accident (GA), mainly because the firm’s quote was extremely competitive and the company is part of Aviva, an insurance giant with a good reputation. However, my wife and I decided to purchase a new car in October 2015 and in between putting a deposit down and picking up the car, I set about informing GA that we would be changing cars. It was at this point that I began to suspect why GA might be cheaper than many rivals. Clicking the ‘Contact us’ button on its website, I noted that after the first 35 days, General Accident withdraws any form of phone-based customer service and customers must make any change to their policy themselves online or face a charge of £30 plus Insurance Premium Tax. Mildly irritated, I set about changing the details of our car. I filled in every box on General Accident’s website correctly, although as the car was brand new it couldn't find the car registration. This didn’t seem to matter, however, as there was an option to continue without listing the car’s registration, and GA found the exact model of car and allowed me to continue filling in the other boxes without a hitch. Eventually, the website generated a new quote, with the premium falling by about £3 to £4 a month – pretty good, I thought, and understandable as the policy included breakdown cover and a new car is less likely to break down so should be cheaper. The website confirmed that the new cover had been accepted. I had asked GA to start the cover from the day after we were due to pick up the car, as I could arrange free seven-day ‘driveaway’ cover for the new car with the dealership. A day or two before we picked the new vehicle up, I checked the GA website and it was still listing our current car – not a problem as it made sense that the current car would remain listed on the policy until the day after we swapped vehicles. However, to be extra safe I emailed General Accident to double-check that our policy would indeed switch to show the new car on the day requested. More alarms bells began to sound when GA replied asking for details of our new car: the same details I had already supplied on its website when agreeing the policy change in the first place. I was shocked when we received a further email from GA stating it could not insure our new car at all – even though it had allowed us to do so online. This exposed us to a highly dangerous position because driving without insurance is illegal – I wondered whether GA would have notified us that it was not prepared to continue cover had I not emailed the firm. Would our policy still cover the old car and the new one be uninsured? We were left with no option but to pay a £53 charge to cancel our policy and then arrange cover with an alternative provider. But there was a further twist. When my wife complained, GA got in touch once again, this time by phone, and she had to run through the details of our new car for the third time. This time, GA said it could insure the new car, and that the premiums would drop by about £1 (and not the £3-£4 originally agreed online). We didn’t even bother querying why the new premiums were not discounted by as much as originally agreed online because we didn't want to have to pay the £53 cancellation charge, so we reluctantly agreed to the cover. There are two things that readers should look out for here. When altering the details of insurance cover – be it home, car insurance or other types – make sure you are given a concrete record of that alteration. In our case, thanks to the vagaries of General Accident’s website, we might have unknowingly been driving around without proper car insurance and breaking the law. Secondly, when taking out insurance, the cheapest option is not necessarily the best. I should have known this, of course: readers have frequently written in stating that cheaper insurers often fall down when it comes to customer service and paying out claims. We’re still with GA for now – and are thankfully comprehensively insured – but I’m not sure that will remain the case by the middle of next year, when we are ready to renew our policy.