The differences between UK and French vehicle insurance
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Insuring a car in France is fairly similar to in the UK, but don’t be caught out by these differences
The main difference that causes no end of problems is assuming that at the end of the year’s insurance, the policy will lapse or expire if you don’t ask the company to continue the insurance. This won’t happen as in France vehicle insurance will automatically renew, unless you have been given notice by your insurer that the policy will not renew.
This is because since 1958 the owner must insure their vehicle with at least a minimum of third party liability insurance. This covers any damage the vehicle may cause, regardless of who is driving, authorised or not (injuring a pedestrian or another vehicle).
A driver who is responsible for an accident does not receive compensation or repairs to the vehicle. However, a passenger of the vehicle, regardless of of their link to the driver, is covered in the same way as a third party is covered.
Although your policy should automatically renew, you shoudl still check that you have received the renewal notice. If an insurer has given notice that your policy will not automatically renew then they will send a lettre recommandée to the last known address on file. A lettre recommandée does not require a signature to prove receipt so while you should receive the letter, there are of course always exceptions and possible problems with teh delivery of the letter.
The usual reasons that an insurer may have decided not to automatically renew are due to non-payment of the policy, multiple claims or a document missing. The missing document is often the carte grise (equivalent to the V5) so if you are registering a UK vehicle in France it is best to do this as quickly as possible, so you don’t risk having a record of a policy being cancelled by an insurer.
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Cancelling a policy
Cancelling a policy in France is not as simple as a quick phone call to your insurer to say you no longer want it. You need to use one of the following methods:
- You can send a letter requesting the cancellation, on the renewal date, by recorded delivery (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception) to be received by your insurer no later than two months before the renewal date.
- Loi Châtel - send a letter requesting the cancellation, on the renewal date, by recorded delivery (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception) to be received by your insurer no later than 20 days from the date on the renewal letter, If there is a delay between the date on the letter and the postmark date on the envelope, you need to send a copy of the envelope for the 20-day time limit to count from the postmark date, not the date on the letter.
- Loi Hamon - The cancellation must be requested by the new insurer by recorded delivery (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception) giving 30 days’ notice. This option is not applicable in the first year of the policy.
Be aware that the renewal date might not be 12 months from when you took the policy out.
Another main difference is no claims system. In the UK the maximum that us generally given is ‘nine years or more’. In the French system, drivers receive a percentage deduction for each year they make no claim on their insurance - it is generally up to 5% a year and takes 13 years for a driver to reach their full no-claims allowance of 50%.
Three years after this you will recieve a ‘good driver’ bonus, which means you no-claims is protected if you make a single accident claim. After 19 years, you get a ‘longue durée’ bonus. This is different for each insurer but often takes the form of an additional discount.
The good news is that you do not lose your entire no claims bonus if you have an accident, even if it is your fault. You just lose a percentage. Protected no claims doesn’t really exist in France, it’s fairly black and white - either you made a claim or not.
Who is insured?
Traditionally, vehicle insurance in France covers the car, and then anyone with a valid insurance is insured to drive the car. However, in recent years the car insurance industry has changed, and it is now possible to insure a vehicle for just a main driver, main driver and partner, or any driver, more along the lines of how it works in the UK. Always check the contract to make sure.
The last major difference is breakdown insurance. Breakdown insurance is traditionally included with a car insurance policy rather than being a separate policy with a specialist breakdown company like AA or RAC. This has never been compulsory but will usually be included.
The main aim of the assistance is to recover your vehicle to a garage, Depending on the level of assistance with your insurer the cover will start at 0km, which means that if you car breaks down at home you can still call assistance and have your car taken to a garage. Some policies, however, only start at 30km, for example.
Some assistance iwll provide a replacement hire car, train, tax etc for you to get home or continue your journey. The main thing to remember is to be clear about what you are insured for, and ensure that your policy is right for you.
Paulette Booth is an agency manager at Agence AXA International in France.
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