Travel: Seeing red over Green Cards: Frank Barrett clears up the muddle over motor insurance for visits to the Continent

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The Independent Travel
IN THE factfile on travel to France (France: all you'll ever need to go, 8 May) I wrote that despite the coming of the single European market you still need to have a Green Card to take your car abroad.

The Green Card, available from your insurance company, extends your UK policy to the Continent: without this extension, your car would have only the minimum Third Party insurance overseas.

I wrote that I obtained my Green Card free from my insurance company, Commercial Union, and that readers also should expect to get their Green Cards free. Several have written to question my information, complaining that they still have to pay.

Hal Jackson of Middlesbrough says he has just obtained a Green Card from his insurance company at a cost of pounds 25. 'I contacted them, and was informed that Green Cards are not free, and that you are wrong.'

David Christensen of Oldham, whose wife is French, frequently travels across the Channel: 'Trips under 15 days to France attract a Green Card fee of pounds 22 on each occasion. My 1984 Cavalier SRi attracts an annual comprehensive premium of pounds 500; inquiries to my broker indicate that an annual Green Card would attract an additional premium of pounds 1,200.'

John Bowers of Dorset has to pay pounds 15 for a Green Card - but doesn't actually receive one. His insurance agents told him 'there is no longer any need to issue a Green Card certificate for the territory in which you intend to travel'.

Mr Bowers simply receives a note - a white letter rather than a Green Card - from his insurance company confirming the extension of his fully comprehensive insurance to Europe.

To clarify the legal situation: there is no legal requirement to have a Green Card. You will not be prevented from entering France. However, your insurance will not be fully comprehensive. You need not have the Green Card with you - and the card need not be 'green': you simply need to have informed your insurance company that you are travelling and, if required, you must have paid the appropriate fee.

But should there be a fee? Peter Farmer, manager of the insurance broking department of the AA, says that people insured with traditional insurance companies will probably not have to pay.

'None of the insurance companies on our panel, for example, makes a charge for a Green Card for travel in the EC for up to 45 days,' he said. 'The difference is with direct writers; companies such as Direct Line who are very price-focused and who charge a cheap initial premium. It is these companies that tend to make a charge for a Green Card.'

With the Channel tunnel due to open next year, it seems ludicrous that the question of car-insurance cover in the EC should be so unclear - particularly given the EC's penchant for legislating on less urgent matters such as sausages and salt and vinegar crisps.

Mr Farmer agrees the situation is 'terribly confused'. However, he believes that the EC will take action and that all insurance companies in the community will issue pan-European motoring policies that will eliminate the need for Green Cards.

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