Your Money: Brokers find a scapegoat

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The Independent Online
AN extraordinary row has broken out over the listing of insurance brokers in Yellow Pages.

It is a little-known fact that 'broker' is a legally protected word. Under the 1977 Insurance Brokers Registration Act, only those individuals who have paid their pounds 60 application fee can use the description.

The Insurance Brokers Registration Council (IBRC) guards the term like a dog with a delicious bone.

You might think it was a label that conferred status, pride and wealth on those who wore it.

'It should only be used - legally and morally - by people registered with us,' says the IBRC.

Companies as well as individuals can be registered (at a cost of pounds 250). So companies cannot include the word broker in their names unless they have paid up.

As well as registered brokers, there may be tied agents and non-registered people calling themselves brokers, all selling insurance. But what else should the interlopers call themselves? The English language is not so easily hijacked. There is no other handy description of someone who sells insurance.

The term 'intermediary' suggested by the British Insurance and Investment Brokers Association (Biiba) does not trip lightly off the tongue or look good over the shop front.

Yellow Pages has been accepting listings under the 'Insurance Brokers' heading willy-nilly. But it is not the IBRC that has been steaming; it is Biiba, the trade body, that is on the warpath.

It is particularly sensitive since a Which? report last month said most advice from brokers was 'truly abysmal'. Of 82 brokers selected from Yellow Pages, 53 recommended clearly inappropriate insurance policies, but 11 of them were not entitled to call themselves brokers.

Instead of worrying about the 42 registered brokers that were giving poor advice, Biiba has turned its fury on Yellow Pages for misleading the public by allowing the unregistered to be listed under 'Insurance Brokers'.

The IBRC is content to settle for checking the listings after publication and then sorting things out, but Biiba wants pre-publication vetting.

An IBRC-registered broker has to stick with its code, which says, for instance, that quotations have to be honoured. And real brokers' clients can always turn to the IBRC compensation scheme.

But until real brokers provide real quality service, the term broker is hardly worth defending with such a huge expenditure of energy.

It would be better spent raising standards.

IF YOU THINK there is an ombudsman to complain to about every corner of your financial life, you are wrong.

There is one for banking, building societies, insurance, and even the large estate agents. The Investment Referee has his patch, the Inland Revenue and National Savings have adjudicators, and there is the grand-daddy of them all who deals with government foul-ups. But with friendly societies you draw a blank. Each society will have its own procedures. Homeowners, for instance, turn to a single arbitrator or can have the matter referred to the County Court. That sounds much less comforting than an industry-wide scheme.

It is about time the friendly societies joined the ombudsman club.

THE GOVERNMENT has abandoned its plans to raise the retirement age for women to 65.

The idea took shape when it expected to be forced to equalise National Insurance contributions and thought that equalising the state pension was a natural consequence. But the DSS unexpectedly won the case in the European Court launched by a man who objected to having to pay NI contributions for five years longer than a woman.

So there is nothing coming from Europe to force the Government into equalising state pension ages.

Pensions expert Bryn Davies has written a paper, Better Pensions for All, to be published this week. He calls for a minimum income in retirement as a right based on solidarity between generations. He says it is the older generation of women, with the poorest pension prospects, who would have suffered most from equalisation.

The Government was never going to win any friends by raising women's retirement age. The revenue-neutral move would have been retirement for all at 63 or 64. That would still annoy women and would not be enough to bring whoops of joy from men.

So expect to see this initiative quietly shelved.