Peter Newton’s premium leaped but, unlike Prince Philip, he hasn’t had a crash. Are older drivers being ripped off?

Peter Newton is 90, fit and healthy. He drives about 10,000 miles a year, at times criss-crossing the country from Sussex to Scotland. He has a 10-year no-claims record and, last year, passed a voluntary driving assessment with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) with flying colours. So why did his insurer, Saga – a specialist for older drivers – dramatically increase his premium at renewal from £717 to £2,033 in December?

Newton, who worked in the motor trade for much of his life, was so shocked he thought it was a printing mistake. On contacting Saga, he was told it would cut the premium to £1,175, but offered no explanation as to why it had asked for more than £2,000, or why he was still expected to pay 64% more than the year before.

“In 2017-18 I paid £717, which in itself is a lot of money for a 1.4 litre five-door saloon. In the end I have had to pay £1,097 after altering my excess to lower the premium. How can my premium be increased by such a huge amount when I am only one year older?” he says.

The Duke of Edinburgh, 97, was at the wheel of a Land Rover that collided with another car last week, leaving one of its passengers with a broken wrist. The accident has sparked a national debate about what critics such as Margaret Hodge MPsay are “absurdly” lax rules in the UK for elderly drivers.

Once drivers reach 70 they must renew their licence every three years by simply completing a self-assessment form about their health.

Newton says he would be happy to take further tests – he went to Rospa after watching the ITV series 100 Year Old Drivers – but says people of his age are being ripped off by insurers. When he tried shopping around online, he spent 15 minutes filling in a form at Aviva, Britain’s biggest insurer, only to find it barred anybody over 84. Of the relatively few other insurers willing to quote, one wanted “a staggering £3,800”.

Aviva confirmed that it refuses applications from anyone aged 84 or over, but will offer cover to existing customers who reach that age. Newton says this means drivers aged 90-plus have a limited pool of firms to go to, giving them carte blanche to charge sky-high rates.

Car insurance claims by age. 

Are older drivers riskier? Data from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) shows claims costs escalate with age. It says: “Industry claims data points to the average cost of a motor claim increasing once you are aged over 80. For drivers over the age of 90, the average motor claim is £5,670. This compares with £4,195 for drivers aged 18-20.” However, claims frequency among older drivers is substantially below that of younger drivers.

Insurers are also cautious about female drivers in their 70s and 80s, who are proportionately more like to be involved in a collision than men of the same age. Insurers think this may be because they let their husband do most of the driving, then find themselves behind the wheel when he becomes disabled or dies.

The ABI says claims history, driving record and type of vehicle are also important. “Being older should not always been seen in a negative light for insurance,” it says.

Does older mean riskier? Peter Newton thinks not.

Newton is not about to give up driving because insurers are making his life difficult. “It could be a good idea for drivers like me to be retested. I’m passionately fond of driving. I’ve driven up to the Isle of Skye from my home in Sussex. I drive down to Devon.”

He paid £55 to take the Rospa course to prove he was still a good driver, but also admits to having taken a speed awareness course in Maidstone after being caught speeding. “I was coming back from Eastbourne and there’s that camera near the roundabout. I was doing 34mph in a 30mph zone. The speed awareness course was very good, though. And they gave everyone a ballpoint pen, and I have to say it’s the best ballpoint pen I’ve ever had.”

Saga says the increase in Newton’s premium was a technical error. “The renewal premium offered to Mr Newton in November 2018 was incorrect as a system error occurred,” it says. “When Mr Newton raised this, an error by the agent meant he was again quoted an incorrect premium. We have offered Mr Newton a refund of £265.04 and total compensation of £225 for the delay in resolving his complaint. He has received £175 so far and the rest will be sent to him shortly.”