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Paper trail

By / 8 years ago / Comment / No Comments

I’ve been awaiting with interest the outcome of the debate on whether to scrap the paper motor insurance certificate. Of course, we are now sticking with the current format, which is that a printable certificate remains in place. And I have to confess to being rather surprised by that.

A couple of times in years gone by we had fraudulent attempts at passing off one of our blanket certificates as covering a non-employee’s car – in one case by the brother of an employee who had bought the car from the leasing company and wrote it off the next day before he had insured it; but that’s another story. Occasionally a certificate would be left in a car at return and subsequently find its way into unscrupulous hands.

But for years I have no longer handed out certificates except upon specific request, for which the upside is that if someone needs a certificate, I get to find out why.

If we were to manage without printed or electronically-transmittable certificates at all, there would be total reliance upon the Motor Insurers’ Bureau information and that can only ever be as accurate as we, or our broker or our insurer, keep it. We are obliged to keep entries up to date within a fairly limited timescale, and in a smaller fleet that’s not so hard. But spare a thought for the larger fleets or those with transient populations and numerous long-term hire cars. And of course, what can sometimes catch one out isn’t putting the new cars on the database; it’s remembering to take the old ones off.

Accuracy of the Database was one of the reasons stated for keeping printable certificates available. If we were reliant on the Database, entries would have to be immediate and I believe that would be problematic. So I can see there would need to be some form of proving insurance during the time between insuring the vehicle, and it going on the MID.

I’ve always thought, and have said here before, that the MIB ought to provide a commercial service for confirming whether or not vehicles are insured. They seem concerned that too many parties would need access to it – but why? You could give everyone access for a fee, but the only information you would divulge is “is the car (or the driver) insured – yes or no”, and perhaps the policy end date, not who insures it, nor whom the car belongs to.

A lesser number of parties ­– police, DVLA, insurers – already have access, which covers the main bases. The remaining interested parties (rental companies, local authorities, finance companies and windscreen repairers were named in the consultation) are usually those who will be charging the end user a fee for their service, so any MID fee could be incorporated into their own fees. Or am I over-simplifying again?

The only positive outcome of this consultation is that in the past you had to return a paper certificate if you cancelled your insurance but, being a law-abiding citizen generally, I never found out what happened if you didn’t. After all, the person you are physically showing your certificate to at the roadside doesn’t know whether it’s cancelled or not, and the bit of paper can’t magically change colour remotely or anything like that to show it’s no longer valid (more’s the pity). So, holding a paper certificate in your hand is not really concrete confirmation to a third party that you have insurance anyway.

At the end of the day, the consultation decided it was down to cost. Initially it was said it cost £1 to process a certificate and I can quite see that, with paper, printing, and postage costs, plus the time of the person or machine doing the sending. Then they said it didn’t cost anything like a £1, but would be much more expensive to change the system. What price progress?

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