European judges are set to rule in a landmark legal case which could outlaw the setting of insurance premiums on the basis of differences between men and women.
The case was brought by the Belgian consumers’ association, challenging the use of statistics based on gender – an established measure of risk for car insurance, private medical insurance and pension schemes.
If the judges back the case, female drivers under 26 in the UK could face a 25% rise in car insurance rates, with a fall in male rates of about 10%, according to the Association of British Insurers.
Basing insurance rates on statistics about the differing life expectancies or road accident records of men and women is standard practice across Europe. It has been specifically permitted since 2004 in EU equal treatment rules, “if sex is a determining risk factor … substantiated by relevant and accurate actuarial and statistical data”.
But an Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice has advised the judges to overturn that provision today, arguing that “higher-ranking” equality provisions set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Lisbon Treaty must now apply.
On the eve of the verdict Conservative leader in the European Parliament Martin Callanan said: “The last Labour government is to blame for this. By signing us up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Lisbon Treaty they have opened the floodgates to nonsense court rulings like this one. Yet again we are paying dearly for the utter mess bequeathed to us by the last Labour government.
“Had Labour given us the referendum on Lisbon that they promised, women would almost certainly not be facing devastating hikes in already sky-high motoring bills.”
Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy commented: “Insurance is based on assessment of risk, and gender has always been a factor applied in that calculation. The European Court needs to apply common sense. There could be huge knock on effects for the industry if insurers were no longer allowed to differentiate between men and women affecting many products.”
Open Europe, the think tank campaigning for EU reforms, says a verdict scrapping differentials would oblige UK insurance providers to raise an estimated extra £936 million to cover themselves against “new uncertainties” created in the market.
The organisation estimated the move would cost young women drivers between 17-26 an average extra £4,300 more – with an actual saving of £3,250 for men over the same age period. In a “worst case scenario”, women drivers’ cumulative insurance costs could be as much as £9,300, said the organisation.