x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

After its ruling on UK insurance premiums, how far will Europe go?

The UK is apopleptic over a ruling by the European Court of Justice that it will be illegal for insurers to assess premiums and pension payouts based on gender.

The UK is apoplectic over a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that it will be illegal for insurers to assess premiums and pension payouts based on gender.

The ruling, which takes effect from the end of next year, means men and women will pay the same rates for their car insurance and get the same amount of retirement income.

The insurance industry, UK politicians and the media have accused the ECJ of ignoring the actuarial evidence and statistics that women are on average safer drivers, and live longer, than men - facts reflected by the current price differentials between the sexes. But since there is no appeal and the court ruling is final, there is little point in fighting the judgment. So let's take a look at the winners and losers.

Car insurance: women are definitely the losers here, because they will have to pay the same rates as young men, who make more claims for crashes. According to the industry, car premiums for women under the age of 25 will rise by an average of 25 per cent, and by up to 60 per cent for those in their teens and early 20s, adding £500 (Dh2,962) to £1,000 a year. Young men, on the other hand, will gain from a reduction of between 10 per cent and 25 per cent in their insurance costs.

Of course there are young men who are safe drivers, as well as women who drive badly. In these cases, the ruling is a fair deal.

However, the fear among UK politicians and insurers is that the cheaper policy will drive young men to choose more powerful cars, increasing further the risk to themselves and others.

The average insurance claim of an 18-year-old man is £4,400, while that for a woman of the same age is £2,700, according to the British Insurance Brokers Association (Biba).

"Effectively, females will now pay a cross-subsidy for males on their insurance premiums," said Graeme Trudgill, the head of corporate affairs at Biba.

Pensions: this is a bad deal for men, who currently receive higher annuity rates than women because they are not expected to live as long - so their pension savings yield more income. With the unisex rate as dictated by the ECJ, a man's retirement income could fall by as much as 8 per cent while a woman's could rise by 6 per cent. On the basis of current data, a 65-year-old man with a £100,000 pension pot could be worse off by £340 a year.

Life insurance: in contrast, longevity would mean a higher premium for women and a lower one for men on life insurance, which pays out when the insurance holder dies during the term of the policy. This could be as much as a 20 per cent rise for women and a 10 per cent drop for men, the Association of British Insurers estimates.

The ECJ's ruling may comply with the spirit of gender equality. But the score - two gains for men and one for women - does not bode well in a world where women are already more likely to face discrimination.

Moreover, to categorise the sexes as winners and losers is too simplistic, industry experts say. The independent think tank Open Europe calculates the ruling will cost UK insurance providers nearly £1 billion in extra capital. This cost will be passed on to consumers, the industry has warned.

What really worries the British chattering classes is the question of where the European courts will stop in the name of human rights.

Only a few weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights caused uproar and defiance among British members of parliament over a ruling that prisoners should have the right to vote in elections. The UK government has until August to resolve the issue, although the court has no powers of enforcement.

The ECJ's ruling, made in the name of the EU's Charter of Human Rights, is binding. The charter took legal effect only when the Lisbon Treaty came into force in December 2009. So the ECJ has many more nooks and crannies of UK legislation to peer into and rule on - in all likelihood to the financial and political detriment of the British government.

Sajjad Karim, a Conservative member of the European Parliament, described the latest ruling as "utter madness" and a "setback for common sense". Many in the UK will agree with that.