|Generic media picture of a minor accident, to grab reader attention|
Well, the bad news is that the Contesse has had a minor accident in her car. The much better news is that no-one was hurt, the accident was not her fault (someone ran into the back of her car at a give-way at a T-junction - unless they reversed into you, it is pretty much a given that if you drive into the back of someone it is your fault), the damage is not very serious (a new rear bumper panel will sort it out, though it is a bit of a shame, considering the vehicle is less than a year old), the car is still driveable and everything should be sorted in a week or two. Things, in short, could be much, much worse; motor accidents can wreck lives in an instant, so we have to be very, very grateful, and it is a useful reminder not to take so many blessings for granted.
We have very few mishaps on the road, I am delighted to say, so we have little opportunity to develop any well-grooved procedures for dealing with this sort of situation. However, we have had the same insurer for 15 years or so now, we are quite happy with them (efficient, and very competitive charges) and we have a good idea of what you do if you have a bump.
The last time I had a vehicle off the road after an accident was two cars and six years ago when someone ran into my pick-up when it was parked (definitely not my fault, I was somewhere else at the time, Your Honour). The procedure was simple enough - I contacted my insurer (the same one as now), they booked the truck into a repair shop, who came and took it away, and lent me a courtesy car - a tiny, bright pink Ford Ka, with "Excelsior Coach Repairs" written on both doors in large black letters. It did the job, though the painted advertising does imply a subtitle: "KEEP AWAY FROM THIS ONE - HE HAS ACCIDENTS". The claim was settled, life carried on.
|Generic picture of a courtesy car|
This time more people were involved. A lot more. And there are a lot of added-value services laid on - if you expect someone else's insurer to pay for all this, it is tempting to just keep saying yes - why not? Everyone else does.
Interesting. The insurance company were efficient and businesslike, as ever, and provided the Contesse with contact numbers and details of the repair shop and the "car-rental company", who would be in touch. They also encouraged her to upgrade to a larger rental vehicle than the basic courtesy car on offer, which seemed surprising in an age when we are all trying to keep costs (and premiums) down. So she agreed to that, and, as promised, people began to ring up. Within a couple of hours everything was in motion.
The Contesse was not comfortable with the contact from the car-rental people, who asked her a whole pile of questions about the circumstances of the accident which seemed to be out of scope for their part in this deal. It turns out that they are not a car-rental firm at all, they are a credit hire company. They offer delivery to your home, and collection (which is attractive, since we live on the Dark Side of the Moon), they will obtain for you an over-spec vehicle, and the Terms and Conditions, legal small print and lists of fees and penalties run for screens and screens of the email attachments. With alarm bells clanging, she did some research online and found a lot of hostile client reviews - what used to be a minimal extra service provided as part of an insurance claim appears to have become a major scam industry. Apart from the wasted cost contributed by the insurers, the credit-hire firm and the rental vehicle providers all lining each others' pockets (yes, there are commission payments travelling upstream as well, so it was in the insurance company's interest to recommend a vehicle upgrade), details of the parties involved are also sold to the market, so that clients are subsequently beset by phonecalls from so-called lawyers, encouraging them to make further claims for whiplash, post traumatic shock, loss of earnings and that mysterious fungal growth in the lawn. It is, basically, a scam. A scam, moreover, which fits right into that much-loved British ideal of an industry which contributes very little, but generates income for an extra level of parasite. The courtesy car add-on associated with a car repair used to involve maybe two people to set it up, and cost very little. Now it involves about half a dozen people, who inflate costs and pay each other commission, and it just milks the system.
No wonder that:
(a) unemployment levels in this ridiculous, bankrupt nation are lower than you would expect, though our output in goods and genuine services continues to shrivel.
(b) insurance premiums are unnecessarily high, and lawyers are never short of a few bob.
(c) the insurance industry (in which I worked for many years) is so widely despised and mistrusted.
Anyway - the ending. After a fairly short period of consideration, the Contesse called the insurer, and also emailed them, and cancelled the courtesy car. They can stick it up their corporate bottom, though of course she did not tell them this. They were pretty sniffy about it, and not prepared to discuss their business relationship with the "car-rental firm". We have email confirmations, and names of the people she spoke to on the phone, at both the insurance company and the credit hire mob. If some poor chaps turn up with a big, posh rental car for us on Wednesday then we know nothing about it, and they may take it away. They can hardly charge for a service they haven't provided. We shall cope with the vehicles we already have - my wife can use my car for a few days, I'll use my van, and we'll write off any small inconvenience against the money we have saved everyone, and the illusion of a tiny victory against a dodgy system.
Watch out for insurance claim add-ons. I cannot believe this is a uniquely British problem, though we seem to have a remarkable talent for creating money-making scams of this type.