Business

Parents 'breaking law' on car insurance

Learner driver Tom Dunn
Image caption Learner driver Tom Dunn is worried about the costs of driving

Millions of parents are said to be breaking the law in order to save money on car insurance for their children.

New figures suggest that 41% of parents deliberately lie when filling out policy applications.

Parents are claiming to be the main drivers on the policy, when in fact it is one of their children who is the main driver, or owner of the car.

The practice known as fronting potentially offers large savings but could lead to prosecution.

'Risky move'

Research by Co-operative Insurance found that 41% of parents were actually fronting policies at the moment, and 61% would do so in the future.

Typically, insurance companies identify the practice when a car is registered to the parents' address in say, Manchester, but the car seems to spend most of its time in Leeds, where a child may be studying at university.

The industry is warning that it is an extremely risky practice.

"The view that motor insurance fronting is harmless and does not hurt anyone could not be further from the truth," said Tim Franklin, of Co-operative Financial Services.

"Parents who believe they are helping their children to save money by fronting are not only risking prosecution, but harming their chances of obtaining insurance in the future."

Costs

Tom Dunn is a 17-year-old who is learning to drive in Milton Keynes.

But that could be the closest he ever gets to owning a car for himself, because he acknowledges that he cannot afford to pay for the insurance.

"I think I would be able to buy a second-hand car, but I do not think I would ever be able to buy the car and pay for the insurance," he said.

In a test to see how much Tom would have to pay to insure the car he is learning in - a Vauxhall Corsa - the cheapest was £4,000. That was assuming the car was kept on a private driveway.

Some parents are trying to reduce such costs by any means they think is legal.

Tom's driving instructor, Bryan Greenall, said he was seeing more and more parents who are tempted to break the law by fronting their car insurance.

"I basically tell them to make sure everything is above board and legal. You do not want to be going down the route of something that is not legal, even though you do not know it is not legal," he said.

Premiums

At the Motor Insurers' Bureau - set up to compensate victims of uninsured drivers - they insist the high cost of insurance should never justify lying on an application form.

Image caption Fronting could leave parents looking over their shoulder

They say the premiums being charged are not excessive.

"Yes, £4,000 is an awful lot of money but it accurately reflects the risk posed by young drivers," said Ashton West, the bureau's chief executive.

Mr West is keen to stress that fronting was an attempt to obtain money by deception, and therefore amounted to stealing.

And it was not just a criminal record parents could be saddled with. Insurers could refuse cover, and deny insurance in the future.

"If you cause injury to a third party, you will have to pick up their costs as well," said Mr West.

"That could be hundreds of thousands of pounds, and those consequences could stick with you for the rest of your life."

To see for ourselves whether parents were aware of the illegality of fronting, the BBC spoke to some as they parked up in the centre of Milton Keynes.

Within the space of 15 minutes, we spoke to three parents who told us they would be perfectly happy to put themselves as the main driver on a policy, even when it was not true.

"Anything that saves money is a good idea," one woman said.

When asked whether she knew it was illegal, she said, "I had no idea."

Another woman admitted to actually having fronted in the past.

But she too was unaware of the illegality, or of the consequences.

The survey says hard times may be forcing parents to try and save money on insurance. But it warns that if they do so illegally, the ultimate price could be prosecution.

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