First the bad news. When I promised last week to name and shame the companies accused of overcharging loyal customers for home insurance, I didn’t think it was going to feature Nationwide, usually one of the better behaved financial services providers. The good news is that Nationwide has relented, in one case at least – although like other insurers it is kicking back against accusations of rip-off pricing.
The case of a retired London professor, John Stanworth, is among the most egregious. He lectured on business ethics and social responsibility, one reason he stayed with member-owned Nationwide for 40 years. Nationwide’s home insurance is provided by Direct Line, which in recent years raised Prof Stanworth’s premium to £1,100 for cover he could find elsewhere for about £300. Worse, when he made a £3,850 claim for flood damage, the loss adjusters reimbursed £400.
Happily, after our intervention this is now being paid in full. “The lady that rang was charming – not just the usual sales team charming but like someone with the self-confidence that comes from closeness to power. She said one of my letters had ended up on her chief executive’s desk and he had said ‘pay it’,” says Prof Stanworth. He was thankful for our intervention but wonders why it should need the help of a newspaper to obtain an entitlement he had paid for, and handsomely so.
John Loader, a reader from North Yorkshire, has been with Nationwide in one form or another since it was the Maidenhead building society in the 1960s. In 2009 it charged less than £600 for his insurance; by this year it had soared past £1,000. When he got a quote from Churchill it was £382. “This product bearing their name is so out of kilter with all the other products I have with them … I was very surprised a mutual like Nationwide would do this,” he says.
But Nationwide firmly disagrees. It said the Churchill comparison was not valid as its policy included unlimited liability on buildings cover. That is fair, although whether it really explains the vast gulf in quotes is a moot point.
I’ll name the other companies in the coming weeks. It is scandalous how some customers have been treated, and in the same way they slowly boiled these insurance “frogs”, I’m quite happy to keep the pot boiling on reader stories.
A football prediction …
Germany are favourites to win Euro 2016, followed by France. But I already know who the real winners are: Ryanair.
England’s first game will be against Russia in Marseille on 11 June. Almost immediately after the dates and locations were announced, Ryanair’s prices leapt, and it is now charging close to £400 for a weekend return. Go a couple of weekends later and it’s just £85.
For a while you could beat Ryanair at its own game by flying into Marseille from other locations in Europe. Its Brussels-Marseille flights remained at €70 return for a short period after the tournament dates were announced, but have since raced past €200.
The hotels are no less greedy: £219 will bag you the last hotel with rooms in Marseille, a two-star joint with terrible reviews on TripAdvisor and which usually charges around £40. “Merci, mais plus jamais,” says one reviewer.
Northern Ireland fans fare similarly, with flights to the Ukraine game in Lyon going for £472 on British Airways, and they’re not even direct.
Republic of Ireland supporters, some of the keenest followers of their team in Europe, will hand Aer Lingus more than double the normal price to get to Bordeaux to watch the big clash against Belgium.
I was in Marseille last summer and apart from the Vieux Port the rest of the city fully lives up to its grimy reputation. Even the airport terminal used by Ryanair is like a decaying Naafi hut. The idea of spending £400 for a flight and £219 a night for some hotel hellhole mystifies me. And that’s before some tout adds a 1,000% mark up to the ticket price. But then the equation between what football fans invest and what they get in return is one of the eternal mysteries of personal finance.