James Daley: Help us clean up the comparison sites
Saturday 09 February 2008
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.
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
In defence of liberal democracy
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park