Want to pay less for home insurance? Then put out that fag, go to church - and buy a gun. By Paul Slade
Are you a churchgoer, a teetotaller, a non-smoker - or even a gun owner? Congratulations! Your spirituality, and/or abstention from alcohol and the demon weed has won you the right to cheaper insurance. And so, rather surprisingly, could your ownership of a gun. These three groups are just some of those set to benefit from a range of bizarre new discounts on house and contents insurance.

The lower premiums for Christians come courtesy of Ansvar, an insurer which specialises in serving the church and charities market. Any policyholder who declares himself an "active church member", for example, gets a 2.5 per cent discount on his house and contents premiums. Mark Ingram, Ansvar's marketing chief, hints that this discount will help Ansvar weed out potentially dishonest clients. He says: "Our claims experience over the years suggests that we have a lower frequency of fraudulent claims than the rest of the market. I don't particularly give any reasons for that, but it is a fact."

Claims like this have angered the National Secular Society. Keith Porteous Wood, the society's general secretary, says: "I assume Ansvar wouldn't be prepared to discriminate on grounds of sex or race. Discriminating against non-believers, I think, comes very shortly behind that. If there comes to be commercial discrimination against people on the grounds of what they believe, how different is that to discriminating against Jewish people? It's an outrageous thing."

Mr Ingram replies: "We are not making a moral judgement in favour of believers, as we have been accused of doing by the National Secular Society. But we are saying that it's a positive lifestyle, and that believers are the kind of people that we want to insure more of." Ansvar is happy to offer the discount to disciples of any established religion: that means active synagogue or mosque members will get a saving too.

The company, which has its roots in the Swedish temperance movement, is offering additional 2.5 per cent discounts each to non-smokers and teetotallers. A non-smoking, non-drinking churchgoer with an Ansvar policy could, therefore, save a total of 7.5 per cent on the average buildings and contents premium of about pounds 150 a year.

This is a new approach to house and contents cover, but it has already been shown to pay dividends in life insurance. Manchester's Rechabite Friendly Society, for example - whose 23,000 clients all abstain from alcohol - tops the latest MoneyFacts with-profits endowments performance table for both the past 10 and 15 years. John Nash, its admin manager, says: "All our members are teetotallers, and we think they live longer, healthier lives."

Mr Ingram argues that adding a household insurance discount for teetotallers and non-smokers is justified as they are less likely to damage their own property. "Fires in the home are frequently linked to smoking, and very many accidents in the home are alcohol-related," he says.

Perhaps the most controversial household insurance discounts of all are those already offered to people with shotguns or rifles at home. Shooters who have already bought a policy to cover their guns through brokers Stuart Alexander can also get discounts of up to 20 per cent on their house and contents insurance. These discounts rely not on householders filling burglars full of holes, but on the extra security that gunowners are assumed to have.

Norman Hughes, an associate director at Stuart Alexander says: "We believe the security risk is better. People who own guns are generally more security- conscious. They have to be vetted by the police for the security of their guns anyway, but they also tend to take more precautions generally with regard to protecting their property. On those grounds, some sort of underwriting discount can be justified."

Jeffrey Olstead, head of media at the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, adds: "Most people who shoot have dogs. They tend to live in rural areas, so they tend to take security a bit more seriously as they are isolated. People who shoot also tend to be older, more reliable people, with a sense of responsibility." The co-ordinator at the Peace Pledge Union, a pacifist group concerned about private gun ownership in the UK, Jan Melicher, says: "It seems a slightly bizarre idea that, just because you've got guns, you're a bit more conscious of the world around you. It may have something to do with the fact that, if one has got guns, one is feeling a little bit paranoid, and that's partly the problem with guns."

The Association of British Insurers also has its doubts about discounts for gunowners. Suzanne Moore, a spokeswoman for the ABI, says: "What they're suggesting seems logical, in that it's the security that the gunowners have already - rather than that they are likely to be waving a gun at a burglar which is causing them to give the discount. But they need to tread quite a fine line - not to be seen to encourage 'have-a-go' home security tactics."