James Daley: Help us clean up the comparison sites

Financial comparison websites have been getting away with murder over the past few years. They now account for more than half of all motor-insurance policy sales, and are selling an increasing proportion of many other financial products, but they remain completely unregulated.

Although they have admittedly helped millions of consumers to get a better deal on their utility bills and numerous financial services products, there is still an awful lot of bad practice that goes unpunished.

At the end of last month, however, the Financial Services Authority finally agreed to take a look at the industry after the insurance brokers' trade body (Biba) called for the sites to be regulated. The brokers – quite understandably – feel aggrieved that not only have these upstarts been busy stealing their business over the past few years, but they have managed it with a fraction of the paperwork.

However, there are also some serious concerns about consumer protection. As Biba's own research showed, many consumers are not clear on the differences between the policies they are offered on these sites and, in many cases, they are at risk of buying policies that do not really suit their needs. And they won't find out about it until it's too late – and a claim is turned down.

My personal problem with comparison sites is the amount of misleading and inaccurate information. While sites such as moneysupermarket.com and uswitch.com like to talk about their integrity and independence, the truth is that these are hard-nosed businesses under pressure to continue increasing their profits, by whatever means necessary.

Take a look at uSwitch's credit cards and loans pages, for example, which give you a list of "our top deals". Unsuspecting consumers could be forgiven for thinking that these were indeed the best deals on the site, when in fact they are simply the best deals with which these websites have commercial agreements. Carry out a full search and you're unlikely to find that their "top deals" come out on top. Or how about Moneysupermarket, which claims to offer you the chance to "compare over 550 online private medical insurance policies" and "over 100 car breakdown policies". In fact, you'll only find around six providers showing up in its medical insurance searches, and around eight on its car breakdown comparisons. Sure, you may be able to compare 550 policies, but if 100 of them are from the same provider, how much difference will there really be?

This kind of bad practice is rife. Moneysupermarket used to use the same trick on its pet insurance channel, but changed it after Save & Spend kept writing about it – which just goes to show that our pressure can make a difference.

And that's why we're starting a new campaign. As of today, you'll be able to find a new personal finance blog on the internet – Cash Crusader) – where we intend to keep highlighting all the bad practice we see on the comparison sites (and elsewhere in the financial services business). If you spot anything suspicious yourself, why not write a comment on the blog to let us know?

Until the FSA steps up to the task of regulating comparison sites itself, it's up to the rest of us to help keep them clean.

* I was impressed by the flood of passionate emails in defence of cheques last week (some of which we've printed below), and I concede that there are instances in which they can still be useful. Fear not; Save & Spend has no intention of campaigning for their extinction, and I doubt that it will happen any time soon.

What is more likely, however, is that the banks soon start to charge for cashing cheques – fees that we in the UK have been lucky not to have to pay so far. In most other countries, such charges are already commonplace.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

    Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

    Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

    £36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot