Direct Line mix-up led to £300 fine and six points on licence

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At the start of April we were pulled over by the police and told that we were driving without insurance. I didn’t panic at first as I knew we had received the new policy information from Direct Line and I thought it was a big misunderstanding. We paid £90 on the spot for the temporary car insurance we needed to be able to legally drive away in our vehicle.

However, it turned out that Direct Line had given us a new policy number but no actual policy.

In December I received an email from Direct Line that said: “your car insurance is coming up for renewal”, which had a “new policy number” in bold at the top. The quote looked OK so I took it off my to-do list and when I received a “renewal pack” in the post it seemed like extra confirmation. Obviously, that was not the case.

We need a letter of indemnity from Direct Line to backdate our insurance to 6 January (when our policy ran out) in order to contest the £300 fine and six points on my husband’s licence.

However, it has refused as it says it informed us by text and letter that we needed to take action to renew our policy. We had to pay £713 to renew, instead of the original £432 quoted, as well as the £300 fine.

JD, London

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You are mortified by this experience after being wrongfooted by the correspondence you received from Direct Line, which included the new policy number. You also did not spot that the payment had not left your account.

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You complain Direct Line’s vague language led you to wrongly assume that your policy had been renewed, but it will not budge.

Direct Line told us: “We are sorry that the customer believes the correspondence relating to their new policy number was confusing. However, having carefully reviewed our correspondence, it was highlighted that they would need to proactively confirm the renewal as the policy had not been set to renew automatically.

“We would ask customers to carefully read all materials supplied. If an insurance policy is not set to auto-renew, the policyholder must contact us by a set date and arrange payment if they wish to remain covered.”

Auto-renewal is a bit of a “double edged sword”, says James Daley, the managing director of Fairer Finance. “It often gets called out as being bad, but for things like car and home insurance, it ensures that you at least have some cover.”

“Insurers used to always automatically opt you into auto-renewal but the Financial Conduct Authority has told them they need to give customers a clear choice. This has led to firms changing the way they deal with auto-renewal and is sure to catch a few people out.”

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