'Female-friendly' insurers catch the unwary

Specialist providers are more likely to charge over the odds for cover despite women's safety record

Specialist insurers that promise cheap deals for women often charge over the odds for cover. Exclusive research undertaken for The Independent on Sunday by Confused.com reveals that self-proclaimed female-friendly firms can charge hundreds of pounds more than mainstream insurers.

The comparison site looked at car insurance premiums for women of differing levels of age and experience. The results show that specialist providers seldom offer the best deals.

Confused's figures show that a 40-year-old woman in Cardiff, driving a Ford Fiesta Style, with five years' no claims bonus (NCB) and a £250 voluntary excess would pay £575.60 with Diamond – more than £300 higher than Esure's premium of £273.48. Other bespoke providers were even more expensive, with a policy from Diva costing £586.40, Women on Wheels costing £633.26 and Ladybird costing £682.05 – £400 more than the best deal.

"Statistically, women drivers are the safest on UK road, and it is no surprise that some providers have created specific brands and bespoke policy offerings with the intention of attracting this market," says Will Thomas, head of motor insurance at Confused.com.

Home Office figures show that over the past five years, male drivers in the UK have accounted for 94 per cent of all car accidents involving death or bodily harm, 97 per cent of all dangerous driving convictions and 83 per cent of all speeding convictions. This is despite the fact that the driving population is currently split 55 per cent men and 45 per cent women.

With this in mind, insurance dedicated to female drivers makes complete sense – they focus their attention on safer drivers and pledge to reward them with smaller premiums.

But our figures show that many of the specialists are ripping women off. A notable exception is Sheila's Wheels which offered a competitive quote in our example of only £259.98, beating the rate offered by its Esure owner. The firm also offer add-on benefits designed to appeal to women such as additional cover of up to £300 for your handbag if it's stolen or damaged while in your car, and "female-friendly" repairers. "Obviously no insurer can claim to offer the cheapest quote for every driver. However, by focusing solely on women, Sheila's Wheels reflects the relative safety of female drivers through attractive premiums," says Asia Yasir, spokeswoman for the insurer.

However, Sheila's Wheels declined to quote for a 20-year old woman, as did specialist rival Diva. In the example of a woman living in Cardiff, driving 10,000 miles a year in a Ford Fiesta Style, with £250 voluntary excess and one year's no claims bonus, the best premium available was £1,027.10 quoted by Admiral.

Women generally pay less on average for their car insurance, but the difference is shrinking. The average premium for men in June last year was £480 and rose to £627 this year, according to the Confused price index, while for women, premiums jumped from £429 to £564.

With this in mind, it's crucial to avoid being lured in by the hype. A specialist may well offer competitive premiums but unless you compare as many providers as possible, women may miss out on the best price and end up paying hundreds of pounds more than they need for cover.

"For a female looking for car insurance, there are insurance providers who do not specifically target female drivers that can also provide competitive premiums and match or be even better the cover that is given when compared to 'female friendly' providers," says Michael Powell, head of general insurance at analysts Defaqto.

It's also important to assess the level of cover and additional benefits. For example, £300 handbag cover may sound useful, but it covers theft only from the car.

Above all, it's vital to remember that there are many other factors affecting premiums beyond gender, including age, occupation, vehicle type, claims and convictions. This will vary considerably from one company to another.

"The main challenge for the customer is identifying which niche they fit into, especially given the degree of customer segmentation that occurs in motor insurance market. Gender isn't always the strongest price indicator when it comes to risk," warns Mr Thomas.

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