Paul Davidson thought little of it when he casually told his pet insurer that his address had changed.
The 64-year-old had insured his beloved ten-year-old Springer Spaniel, William, with John Lewis since he had a puppy, paying £195 a month for cover.
So he was stunned to find that moving from Tavistock, Devon, to Cirencester, Gloucestershire, meant his monthly bill would increase by a staggering £500.
Price increase: Paul Davidson and partner Pat with 10-year-old Springer Spaniel William
Indeed, Paul’s story is typical of the nonsensical zip code lottery that plagues pet owners across the country.
Insurers claim that a multitude of factors account for premiums that routinely vary by hundreds of pounds depending on where you live.
When Paul asked how his change of address could make such a huge difference to his insurance risk, a John Lewis employee told him that there were more dog food incidents in certain areas, meaning premiums were higher.
This is an increasingly common excuse from insurers following an alarming rise in dog thefts during the pandemic.
With more people at home during the lockdown, there was a huge demand for dogs, with an estimated 2.2 million people adopting dogs between March and September last year.
This pushed prices up, making dogs a profitable asset for thieves.
Still, analysis by Money Mail shows that the likelihood of your dog being stolen has little impact on the cost of pet insurance.
Take, for example, the case of Paul. His old address was in Devon – a place where many more dogs were kidnapped than his new address in Gloucestershire.
According to figures from comparison site GoCompare, 222 cases of dognapping in Devon and Cornwall were reported to police between 2018 and 2020. Only 42 cases had been reported in Gloucester during the same period.
Curiously, GoCompare’s research showed that West Yorkshire had the most cases of dognapping, with 430 cases reported to the police between 2018 and 2020.
By comparison, the least likely place to have your dog steal was in Surrey, where just 26 cases were reported in two years.
Despite this, the average annual pet insurance for a dog in West Yorkshire is £445 while in Surrey it is much higher at £540 (premiums rise sharply as dogs get older and develop health problems). In fact, pet insurance in Surrey costs more than any of the top five dognapping hot spots, including: Kent, Devon and Cornwall, Northumbria and West Mercia.
Paul says: ‘The woman on the phone said the premium increase was probably due to more dog thefts in Cirencester, but I don’t see that to be true.
‘In the end we can’t afford the extra costs. They actually told me I would have to pay £700 a month, which is a fee I think most people would have a hard time affording.”
James Daley, of campaigning agency Fairer Finance, says there is little justification for such variation in insurance costs across the country.
He says: ‘It is absolutely exploitative that someone can get an extra £500 a month just to change address.
‘If insurers don’t want to keep having a customer on their books, they often find all kinds of excuses to change the premium.
‘[Paul] would have to let his dog steal several times a month to make that jump worth it.
‘Moreover, most insurers have a limit on how much they will pay out anyway.’
Figures show that pet insurance payouts are rising.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says insurers have processed £799 million in claims to cover veterinary treatment in 2020 – the equivalent of £2.2 million a day. But what drives premiums up faster in some countries? Experts say vet bills are largely to blame, as surgeries in certain areas offer more expensive services by default, while even basic treatment bills can vary widely.
For example, Parkvets, which has eight practices in South East London and North West Kent, charges £55 for an initial consultation.
Yet Inshes Veterinary Center in Inverness, Scotland, advertises initial consultations at £38. The Ark Veterinary Practice in Stratford-upon-Avon charges between £145 for spaying a dog between 10kg and 20kg.
But at Midland Veterinary Surgery in Leyton, East London, it’s about £100 more, with prices ranging between £225 and £356 depending on the dog’s weight.
Hannah Isitt, chief of pet insurance at GoCompare, says, “There is a wide range of factors that determine the premium of a pet insurance policy that determine the premium customers pay. So while dognapping is on the rise in some areas, it appears that premiums have not risen in areas where the number of reported thefts is increasing.
“That’s why it’s so important to get prices from as many insurers as possible when looking for pet insurance.”
John Lewis has now agreed to keep Paul’s premium at £192 a month, although this could rise if he renews the insurance in December.
A spokesperson says the customer service representative who spoke to him made a mistake.
She says: “We take many factors into account when calculating insurance premiums and Mr Davidson should not have been given the impression that pet theft was the main reason for the price increase. We looked at his circumstances and, although an increase in his premium was due, it was nowhere near £500 a month. Our apologies for this mistake.’
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