Mark Steel: Lost in the car insurance labyrinth

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The Independent Online

To sense the irrational terrifying chaos that drives the modern economy you should get someone to drive into your parked car in the middle of the night. I went on this course yesterday and it's a splendid education. It begins with the relative calm of answering the door to see the police stood before you, an image that makes anyone decent think, "Bollocks, I must have been on CCTV", or "They can't STILL be after me for the poll tax".

So I was relieved when they showed me the pile of metal and glass in the road, until I realised this meant calling the insurance company. Within an hour I had filled up several notepads with incident numbers, policy numbers, reference numbers, registration numbers and license numbers, and then I was told I'd be sent a form on which I had to draw the incident.

Why do you have to do that? Do they choose the best ones and send them to children's television to put on the wall, with captions saying: "Sent in by David of Coventry, aged 46, called 'Man trapped in burning Vauxhall Astra on A45'." Does it invalidate the claim if you don't colour it in properly? If the picture isn't clear enough do they ask you to perform the incident as a piece of modern dance?

Then it turned out my insurance company didn't deal with insurance. "We pass the policy on to Flint," they said, but Flint put it out to Markerstudy, who put it out to Crusader who put part of it out to Alps. And most of these calls involved call centres, so a 30-minute wait is followed by someone telling you "We just need you to answer some security questions. Could you give me your policy number and incident number and registration number and passport number and date of birth and mother's maiden name" until you know it's pointless because eventually they'll ask for one you don't know like: "Could you tell me your favourite breed of eagle, Mr Steel? Well if you don't know your favourite breed of eagle, we can't proceed with your claim."

One part that puzzles me is, if these insurance companies don't actually do insurance what do they do? Are they a sandwich shop that was accidentally put in the wrong section of the Yellow Pages, but kept getting requests for household and contents cover so decided they'll do a spot of brokering as a sideline?

Crusader instructed a company called Vision to call me, who said as well as dealing with the claim they'd provide a "courtesy car" which I wasn't expecting. But after 40 minutes it turned out because I was caught speeding two years ago they couldn't speak to me any more so would pass it back to Crusader who got Ai Claim Solutions to call, but after another 40 minutes they couldn't do anything either, so I rang Crusader and they put me on hold.

And honestly, while waiting they played Grandmaster Flash singing "Don't push me 'cos I'm close to the edge". When someone came back, I said "That was an excellent choice of music", and tried to explain.

"I'm sorry. What ARE you talking about?" she said.

But she did get a company called Helphire to ring. By now as I was explaining the day's events I felt I needed a chart on the wall covered in names of companies and arrows as if I was in an episode of The Wire, with little photos and a sweaty inspector snarling, "And guess who turned up as accomplice to Crusader on a deal with Vision offering fully comprehensive on a Ford Focus registered in Baltimore in '07, our friend from Claims Solutions, that's who".

Then it turned out they couldn't deal with me at all, because the car was too damaged. Maybe the next company will say: "We can't assess the damage as the vehicle isn't facing south-west."

But it's a marvellous lesson, of how modern business is owned by no one and responsible for nothing. If I get this claim dealt with, I'll sort out the eurozone, because compared with this it will be a bloody doddle.