Less than a month ago a report by British newspaper The Sun made the rounds after it accused a couple of insurance providers of discriminating against customers based on names. Now a BBC Radio 4 programme has revealed similar findings after conducting its own probe.
According to You and Yours’ investigation involving five price comparison websites, someone named Muhammad Khan would be given higher car insurance quotes compared to a prospective policyholder with a white British name – such was the case for all five sites, with the biggest difference at £360. Even with test variations, the former drew higher prices in most cases.
“Could a quote be affected by one name already being registered at a home address,” asked BBC Radio 4 producer Joel Moors. “Perhaps, but when we tested other addresses, where neither name had any history, quotes still increased.
“What about getting quotes for Mr Khan first? This showed some insurers might still have charged him more.”
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A report by the BBC said the lowest quotes rose by between £140 and £280 on average. Even a female name, when coupled with the Khan surname, received higher quotes. It was noted, however, that the insurers’ quotes were beyond the sites’ control.
“Could the price changes be showing the difference between a real person and a false identity,” Moors asked further. “Perhaps, but there are lots of people with Mr Khan’s name living in the area of the test postcodes. So, if a real Mr Khan had been looking at car insurance prices for the addresses in our limited examples, he might have seen higher prices than someone with a different name.”
Reacting to the findings, former equality commissioner Trevor Phillips said insurers are running the risk of violating racism laws.
“If what the investigation has shown is generally true, and it does not have to be true in every single case, it is clearly a case of racial discrimination,” Phillips told the programme.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) stressed that it is both unlawful and unacceptable to price insurance based on ethnicity.