Simon Read: New gender ruling would force up insurance costs for everyone

The insurance industry is running scared ahead of an EU ruling due on 1 March. From then, the European Court of Justice could force insurers to stop using gender for risk differentiation. If your first thought is "about time", then you should consider what it means, for the potential ruling is a spectacular bit of Euro-nonsense. If the ruling is upheld, it is likely to increase the cost of cover for men and women, leaving both worse off.

Admittedly, that view comes from the insurance industry itself, but it is likely to be proved right. If insurers can't price policies according to gender, they will have to base them on more generic principles. The ruling covers a variety of different policies, including motor insurance, life cover, and annuities, but in all areas, costs could climb dramatically.

Take motor insurance. Figures from the Association of British Insurers show the cost of claims from women aged 25 and under is about a third less than men in the same age bracket. So insurers can afford to charge young female drivers less. Meanwhile, private medical insurance rates for males aged 35 to 50 could rise by up to 15 per cent under the equalisation rules. And this could be just the beginning. A movement in France is hoping to force insurers to stop using age, health and any other form of differentiation when pricing their policies.

The question essentially boils down to this: should we all pay the same price for insurance? That would mean those who look after their health would be charged the same for medical or life insurance as those who don't exercise and smoke 40 a day. Meanwhile, careful motorists could pay the same for insurance as high-risk drivers.

Of course we want to fight discrimination but, as far as I can see, insurers are basing their gender pricing strategy on proven risks, rather then ill-informed gender generalisations. So women can qualify for cheaper car cover because they statistically have fewer accidents. But they get worse annuity rates because they live longer and therefore policies have to be stretched further.

The European Court of Justice could force insurers to stop gender-based underwriting immediately from 1 March. Be prepared for insurance hikes if it does.

The champions league final is being held at Wembley this year, prompting huge interest among British football fans, particularly with four English clubs still in with a chance of making the final. You can apply for tickets for the final from next Thursday from EUFA, the governing body of European football.

But the organisation seems determined to mint as much as it can from fans. Ticket prices start at £150 and climb to £300. More shocking is the £26 admin charge you'll be forced to stump up if you are successful in the ticket ballot. As Which? reported recently, the cost of processing a debit card transaction is roughly 20p, while a credit card is nearer £1.

EUFA is only accepting payment by credit card but even so the fee seems outrageous. It does include postage costs but even if you allow another quid or so for that, the football body is still pocketing around £24 to cover its administrative charges. Either it costs a lot more to stick a ticket in an envelope than I thought, or UEFA is using the charge to increase its revenue from the event.

You can add your voice to Which?'s campaign to end rip-off card charges at www.which.co.uk/ripoff.

The city: Radical changes to regulation

The city watchdog is set to disappear next year in radical changes to financial regulation. The Financial Services Authority will be replaced by two new bodies: the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Meanwhile, a new independent Financial Policy Committee will be set up as part of the Bank of England.

The moves are designed to avoid repeating the mistakes of the recent financial crisis and to ensure taxpayers are protected, according to the government. The FPC will protect financial stability, while the PRA will regulate financial firms, leaving the FCA to regulate conduct in financial services and markets.

Announcing the changes the Treasury's Mark Hoban said: "We welcome the input of everyone who has an interest to ensure that we get the design right." Judging by the high number of confusing new organisations he has proposed, the design still needs some tweaking as a matter of some urgency.

s.read@independent.co.uk

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