Shop around for a good insurance deal

This year's devastating start to the bushfire season has underlined the value of insuring the biggest asset many people own: their home.

This year's devastating start to the bushfire season has underlined the value of insuring the biggest asset many people own: their home.

Nationally, the average cost of home insurance has grown at double-digit rates for several years.

The two big insurers, IAG and Suncorp, expect to raise premiums by a smaller amount this year, but after the recent rises many households will still feel the hit.

A major reason for the rises of recent years, insurers say, is the cost of covering a wave of catastrophes such as floods, cyclones and fires.

People who face the greatest risk of disaster have often endured the biggest price increases, but the rises are also being spread across all policyholders.

This week's graphic, based on analysis by Canstar, shows people in Tasmania in particular have faced the sharpest increase in their costs, but the trend occurred across most of the country. Victoria is the odd one out, but this is the result of a fire levy being removed, rather than a reduction in what the companies are charging.

What can customers do to make sure they're not getting dudded on insurance?

It may be a widely repeated cliche of personal financial advice, but shopping around is a vital first step. It's especially important in an industry like home insurance, where two companies, IAG and Suncorp, control about half the market.

Despite this, research suggests Australians are generally unlikely to weigh up the different deals on offer when they're buying insurance.

Figures from Nomura and Roy Morgan, for instance, show we have been more reluctant to switch insurance providers than people in the United Kingdom.

The survey from 2012 found just 16 per cent of customers were comparing their cover with others, compared with 66 per cent in the UK. The survey was for motor insurance, but similar forces are at play in home cover.

In the jargon, experts say there is much more "consumer activism" in the insurance market in the UK than here and this has made the market much more competitive.

A likely reason for this is the widespread use in Britain of "aggregators", which allow people to compare the different deals on offer.

Whatever its reasons, our reluctance to shop around probably costs us money.

It won't insulate households from all of the increases in insurance costs, especially those for people in disaster-prone areas. But as more people flex their market muscle, the more insurance companies will have to pay attention.

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