RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS: Premiums go down as well as up

RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS: Insurance premiums go DOWN as well as up… just ask our reader Jean, who got a surprise when her renewal arrived

When reader Jean, a retired teacher from London, opened her latest home insurance renewal letter, she was so delighted she did a little dance.

The letter read: Last year your cover cost £303.25. This year your price is £145.89.

Jean had expected a hike to her premiums. After all, they have risen every year since she can remember. So she was shocked – and thrilled – when this year’s quote came in at under half the cost.

Her lower premium seems particularly fortunate when you consider what so many other readers are experiencing.

Group Wealth and Personal Finance Editor Jeff Prestridge has been investigating the latest wave of premium hikes through these pages and Money Mail. Scores of readers have been writing in to share their experiences.

Safe as houses: Jean’s lower premium seems particularly fortunate when you consider what so many other readers are experiencing

As Jeff has discovered, although not all are facing rising premiums, many of you have seen price rises of 30 per cent or more. One home cover customer told Jeff he was quoted 76 per cent more than last year, even though he had not made a single change or claim.

The rises are a kick in the teeth to loyal insurance customers, many of whom may struggle to pay them when budgets are already overstretched.

Jean was curious to know why her premium had plummeted and was tempted to ask her insurer. But she worried they would turn around and say: Yes, you’re right, that drop is a bit much, now you mention it – and promptly change their mind. So she contacted me for an answer instead.

I asked her if there were any changes since last year that may explain the reduction. ‘I just celebrated my 80th birthday,’ she said. ‘But surely that can’t be why?’

I asked price comparison website MoneySupermarket to crunch the numbers, and I think Jean may be on to something.

Home insurance quotes for under-80s hit £157 last month on average – but over-80s were quoted just £131.

People aged between 35 and 44 received the highest quotes at £177 on average – over a third more than over-80s.

MoneySupermarket confirmed that customers often see a drop-off in their home insurance bills when they turn 80. It explained that premiums are calculated on how risky an insurer thinks you are, and older customers tend to be less likely to make claims – and claim for less when they do.

I told Jean, who is tickled by this logic. She laughs: ‘Maybe they imagine that because I’m retired I’m sitting at home all day and so unlikely to get burgled or to be away when a pipe bursts or something. However, nothing could be further from the truth.’

That’s because Jean likes being out and about and travelling as much as she can. ‘Now, if only my travel insurance fell as much as my home insurance,’ she says. ‘That’s where I’d make the best savings.’

I think this is a good example of why you should never take an insurance hike lying down. As premiums are rising on average, it may be tempting to assume that an increase in your own bills is inevitable.

But there are some people out there who are enjoying significant falls. If you’re not one of them, shop around and ask your insurer for a better deal.

Paying for parking getting harder 

Paying for parking used to be simple. Put coins in the machine, press green button, wait for ticket to be printed.

But increasingly, there is not an option to pay with cash, nor sometimes with a credit or debit card. Instead, you need to download an app, go on a website or phone an automated number.

When in Exeter recently, I saw a woman close to tears while trying to pay for parking. She told me she wanted to visit the cathedral, but had spent 20 minutes trying to make the payment on her smartphone and was close to giving up.

As Toby Walne reveals, fraudsters are now taking advantage of these new hoops we have to jump through to pay for parking by putting QR codes on parking machines that link to bogus websites.

Fraudsters thrive where people are forced into using new technology that they are not comfortable with. We need to be careful when scanning QR codes on parking machines. But it would also help – for ease and security – if motorists were able to pay for parking with cash or card as well.