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Sex equality ruling 'may make us all worse off'

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Sex equality ruling 'may make us all worse off'


Insurance companies have been quick to criticise a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that will mean they will no longer be able to offer different rates according to clients’ gender.

At present, women generally pay lower car insurance premiums than men as they are statistically less likely to have accidents.

But the EU’s top court ruled on Tuesday morning that “taking the gender of the insured individual into account as a risk factor in insurance contracts constitutes discrimination.”

Unisex premiums will need to be enforced across the European Union from December 21, 2012. Governments and insurers will have until that date to adapt. It’s thought the ruling will have significant consequences for both insurance companies and their customers. In the United Kingdom alone companies will have to raise more than a billion euros to cover themselves against “new uncertainties” in the market, according to one think-tank.

The cost is then expected to be passed on to consumers. For example, a 17-year old female driver may find herself paying around 5,000 euros more in car insurance premiums by the time she has reached 26, a rise of around 25 percent. Men’s premiums meanwhile could fall by around 10 percent, says The Association of British Insurers, in order to make premiums equal.

But men may also suffer later in life as the change in law will also impact on pensions.

Men, whose lives are statistically shorter than women’s, currently enjoy a larger annual pension for the same amount of money invested. This will now have to change, with men’s annuities being reduced to bring them into line with the amount women receive.

EU member states have been allowed to give insurers some leeway in taking gender into account when analysing risk but this was challenged by the Belgian consumer group Test-Achats. The ECJ’s advocate-general agreed with Test-Achats that factoring in gender violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Lisbon Treaty.

UK Conservative MEPs have joined insurers in criticising the ruling, with one calling it “utter madness” and a “setback for common sense.”

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