Insurers have admitted using out-dated pricing methods to rip off customers who fail to shop around for better deals.
The admission came in a series of letters between the Treasury Select Committee chairman, Andrew Tyrie MP, the Association of British Insurers and the now defunct regulator the Financial Services Authority.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Penalise the elderly
Tyrie - who has published the letters today – wrote in March detailing renewal prices as high as five times the premium quoted to new customers. He described the scandal saying: "Such practices appear to penalise long-term loyalty and are to the detriment of those less able to access comparison resources, particularly the elderly."
Tyrie demanded to know what the insurers' response was and asked the regulator what it was doing about the problem.
The insurer's boss Otto Thoreson insisted renewal premiums five times higher than new quotes were "not viewed as normal and appear to relate to a very specific part of a legacy market". He said they came from old home and contents policies originally sold through banks and building societies using a tariff structure long-since replaced for new business.
He said: "We do not believe the extreme examples you raise are a direct result of the competitive nature of the marker, rather they represent a disconnect within a segment of the market." He insisted insurers encourage people to shop around and the market was one of the most competitive in the world.
10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs
Insurers admit renewal price rip-off
Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.
To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.
Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.
At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.
It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.
With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.
No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.
Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.
Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.
While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.
Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.
However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.
However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.
Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.
Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.
Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.
Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.
And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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The letters also expose the weakness of the former regulator the FSA. Its then managing director, Martin Wheatley is now the chief executive of the replacement regulator the Financial Conduct Authority.
His letter as FSA boss admits the regulator was toothless and "has not carried out any sector-wide monitoring of how insurers price differently for new and existing customers". But he said the new regulator, the FCA, would do this. The FCA will also have more power to stop misleading promotions by insurers.
7 ways to improve your retirement
Insurers admit renewal price rip-off
If, like many Britons, you have failed to save the cash you need to maintain a comfortable standard of living in retirement, one option is to sell your home and downsize to a smaller property, using the money leftover to cover your living costs.
If moving out of the family home is too much of a wrench, however, the good news is that equity release schemes allow you to stay in your house or flat while still using the equity built up in it to provide some extra cash. The downside of the schemes, which work a bit like mortgages, is that you may not have much left to pass on to any children or other relatives.
But that's a small price to pay for a reasonable standard of living. For more information, try Age UK on 0800 169 6565.
Choosing the right annuity can have a significant impact on your retirement income. And as with most pensions, you automatically have what's called an 'open-market option' (OMO), you can scour the market for the highest annuity rate.
It is worth checking what your pension provider is offering first, though, as some companies offer guaranteed rates for existing customers that are likely to beat those available elsewhere. The Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047 is a good place to get some free advice.
On retirement, most people convert their pension fund into a guaranteed income annuity that pays out the same amount every month for the rest of their lives.
However, you can also choose an increasing annuity that pays out smaller amounts in the first few years but offers larger payments further down the line. This may prove a wise move if the rate of inflation remains at over 2%.
It is now easier to work later in life because the "default retirement age" has been scrapped.
People approaching retirement age and worrying about money can therefore choose to work for a few years longer - potentially transforming their financial situation. Other than the extra income from working, these people can look forward to higher state pensions, and higher annuity rates due to their greater age.
They can also benefit from bigger tax allowances and the fact that they no longer have to pay National Insurance contributions. Check out this nidirect website for more details.
You could get a much better rate with an impaired-life annuity if you have a medical condition that is likely to reduce your life expectancy.
Incredibly, even snoring, which is a common symptom of Sleep Apnoea could have an impact.
According to figures from MGM Advantage, a man with this condition could receive an extra £12,000 retirement income over the course of their retirement - or £571.44 extra money each year. Click here to find out more.
To maximise your retirement income, it is vital to ensure that you are receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled. These include the basic State Pension, and in some cases, the additional State Pension.
If you are on a low income, you could also qualify for the guaranteed element of Pension Credit, while those with some savings may get the savings element of this benefit. For more information about these and other benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment, click here.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.
The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.