The soaring cost of protecting our pets

We're a national of animal lovers, but what is the cost?
We're a national of animal lovers, but what is the cost?
Lloyd and Karen Clewer, the founders of Farm4Life, at Haslar Hospital, Gosport, where they store goods ready to send to Africa  (Picture by Habibur Rahman)

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There are few things most people love more than their animals – so it’s not hard to understand why pet insurance is a huge and growing industry.

But when insuring your dog or cat becomes more expensive than buying cover for your car, it can be nigh on impossible for many people to pay for it.

And worse still is when a previously affordable policy suddenly skyrockets in price with little or no explanation.

This was the situation facing Keith Clark, of Mengham Lane, Hayling Island, when he came to pay this year’s premium to insure Amy; his 13-year-old Welsh Corgi.

Previously paying the hardly insubstantial sum of £714.72 per annum, his renewal was going to set him back an eye-watering £1,348.57.

He worked out that this is an increase of 88.69 per cent, and Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance offered precious little in the way of justification.

‘I couldn’t believe it,’ he said. ‘To be confronted by such an extortionate rise without being told why was completely shocking.

‘So I called up and couldn’t get an explanation on the phone either.

‘Amy does take medication for arthritis, but I have only claimed for the last four years and before that I paid for it myself.

‘I know that all insurances have increased over the past few years, and that vets’ fees have also increased, but I feel that this increase is excessive.’

And he isn’t wrong about the price hikes that have hit the industry this year.

Research by market analyst Datamonitor has revealed that rising vet bills and an increase in the frequency of claims could lead to a double-digit rise in premium rates for many pet owners.

Stephen Ko, analyst at Datamonitor, said: ‘Advances in technology and more elaborate veterinary procedures have pushed up vet bills leading to a universal rise in claims inflation – which varies between five per cent and 15 per cent.

‘As pet insurance is considered to be discretionary, fewer consumers have been taking it out in a bid to save money.

‘Due to the economic climate fewer consumers have been able to afford to keep pets in the first place, so there hasn’t been a significant increase in the pet population. This has led to insurers being forced to increase premiums to ensure growth and protect margins.’

But it certainly doesn’t explain the whacking great rise in the cost of Mr Clark’s policy.

Premiums aren’t rising at a universally similar rate, because the price you pay can depend on the insurer’s strategy.

Often companies will offer lower costs to new consumers, but offset this by charging existing customers more when they come to make a claim.

They are wagering that any customers they lose because they are unwilling to pay ever-rising costs will be more than made up for by new ones.

And that is certainly the situation Mr Clark has found himself in.

He said: ‘I just cannot afford to pay that kind of price so I am going to have to cancel my policy.

‘They are just going to completely price me out of the market and force me to not have insurance for Amy.

‘It feels like a bit of a racket to be honest.’

But help is at hand. Useful websites such as insureyourpet.co.uk can provide much-needed guidance on how to get the best value for money from your policy.

Just make sure the sites you use are independent – like the Which? consumer advice service – and not trying to sell you insurance.

Responding to Mr Clark’s case, a spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s Insurance, Lorna Gilmour, said: ‘As is typical with any insurance renewal, some customers will see a change in their premium.

‘Premiums are regularly reviewed to ensure that they remain competitive and that they take into account a number of factors such as pre-existing conditions, claims history, claims inflation and rising veterinary fees.

‘Since March 2005, Mr Clark has made over 20 claims against Amy’s policy, as she has received treatment for a number of different conditions. We are sorry that Mr Clark feels his renewal quote is unsatisfactory and we are in the process of responding to his query.’