DRIVERS who have started commuting to work because of coronavirus could be unwittingly invalidating their car insurance – and risk a £300 fine.
When you buy car insurance, you're usually asked how you are planning to use your vehicle, including whether you will be commuting or only using it for social purposes.
This will influence how much your premium is, as different types of driving carry different risks.
But during the coronavirus pandemic, many people who usually commute by public transport may wish to drive to reduce the risk of getting the virus.
If you do not inform your insurer of a change in circumstances, you could invalidate your policy, meaning that on your commute you are technically driving uninsured.
And the consequences of driving without insurance are severe, starting with six points on your licence and a £300 fine.
This is a minimum penalty, so if you are stopped for any reason in your car and your insurance is invalid, you will automatically get the points and the fine – you can't get away with a warning.
A uniformed constable can stop drivers under s163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and can ask the driver to produce insurance and licence documents under s165 of the same act. The police do not require a specific reason to stop a driver.
And if you are stopped for another offence, the police will typically check whether you are insured and where you are driving to.
If the case goes to court you could get an unlimited fine and disqualified from driving.
The police also have the power to seize, and in some cases, destroy the vehicle that’s being driven uninsured.
And of course, if you are in an accident, you'll no longer be covered for damage to your car or third-parties.
Whether you are covered for commuting or not will depend on the type of insurance that you bought, your provider of choice, and your policy wording.
If you've started driving to work and you are unsure whether you're covered, the best thing to do is to contact your provider straight away so your policy can be updated if necessary.
Some providers, such as Direct Line, actually allow you to commute on their standard policies.
A Direct Line spokesperson said: "Our car insurance policies include commuting in the definition, 'social, domestic and pleasure purposes'.
"This means that the policyholder can drive to a permanent place of work under their policy.
“By 'permanent' place of work, we mean a single office, site, location or place of work that the policyholder intends to travel to for the duration of their contract of employment.”
How to make sure you have the right car insurance
Ian Rowlands, head of car insurance at GoCompare.com, explains how to make sure your policy covers you for driving to work:
“If you use your car for commuting to work, you will need a policy that covers you for this commute as a standard car insurance policy may not include this.
“In addition, if you use your car for anything other than driving to a single place of work, then you need business car insurance.
“This includes any work trips such as driving to meet clients, visiting multiple work sites, driving to the post office or transporting other members of staff.
"Common business journeys are rarely covered by standard car insurance, so if you do any of these, you’ll need business car insurance.
“If a driver fails to declare that they drive to work (or drive as part of their work,) this could invalidate their insurance.
“When taking out a car insurance policy, it’s essential that you answer all questions honestly and accurately, and inform your insurer if your circumstances change.”
Other insurance companies have actually amended their polices to help people manage in the pandemic.
Members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have pledged to extend cover those travelling to and from work to help social distancing measures.
The pledges will be in force until at least the 31 December 2020 and will be reviewed closer to the time.
After that, motorists must check they have the right policy if they are planning to commute by car.
For instance, LV= has temporarily updated its rules around driving to work. The insurer has added business use to all existing Direct Motor policies until further notice.
There’s no charge for this increase in cover and it will be honoured if you need to claim. But it doesn't cover you for delivering goods as part of your job.
An LV spokesperson said: “If you’re now using your car for work or are choosing to drive to work (including different offices/places of work) to avoid public transport due to social distancing, there’s no need to let us know. "
The update is only temporary, and it only applies to existing customers, so if you usually use your car for work it's really important that youinclude business use on your car insurance policy.
Otherwise, you won't be covered if you need to claim when LV= is no longer offering the upgraded cover at no additional cost.
ABI member organisations also pledged to extend insurance cover for key workers who are using their cars for business and any volunteers using vehicles.
At the end of the year, these pledges will be reviewed and could then be extended.
But these changes only apply to those insurers who are members of the ABI, and membership is voluntary.
If your insurer is not an ABI member then you need to check your policy to make sure your insurance covers you for commuting.
Dave Merrick, head of car insurance at MoneySuperMarket, said: “Most of the main insurers have signed up to automatically extend cover for people who have to drive to work because of the impact of Covid-19, however to be on the safe side our advice would be to always let your insurer know if you’ve started to use your car to commute.
"You also need to let the insurance company know if you change occupation or if you’re out of work."
Yesterday, a new week-long campaign was launched to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road.
As a result all 43 police forces across the UK are engaged in a national effort to help reduce uninsured driving levels.
‘Operation Drive Insured’will see increased roads policing activity to detect and seize uninsured vehicles.
Home and car insurance firms to be banned from hiking premiums when customers renew polices.
Struggling insurance customers will have payments reduced or cut if they can’t pay bills.
Cheap car insurance – how to lower your premiums and get cashback from Admiral to Go Compare.
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