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Court ruling blow to women drivers

Women are facing the prospect of higher car insurance premiums while men are likely to receive lower pensions because of a new European court ruling.

The decision by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg will prevent insurers from using gender when calculating premiums.

It ruled that using differences between men and women as a risk factor in setting premiums for car, medical and life insurance, as well as annuities, breaches EU rules on equality.

But the change was immediately condemned as "utter madness" and a "setback for common sense" by Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which has spent the past decade fighting the move, estimates that women aged under 25 could see a 25% increase in motor insurance premiums, but men are expected to see a reduction of just 10% in theirs.

Think-tank Open Europe is more pessimistic, claiming providers will now have to raise an estimated £936 million extra to cover themselves against new uncertainties created in the market when the new rules come into force.

It claims the changes will cost young women drivers an average of £4,300 extra between the ages of 17 and 26, with men saving only £3,250 in the same period.

A similar pattern is expected to emerge for annuities, which are used by people who have defined contribution or personal pensions to convert their retirement savings into a regular income.

The ABI estimates that men approaching retirement could see an 8% reduction in annuity rates, while women are expected to see only a 6% rise. The industry also warned that the change could lead to increased levels of insurance fraud and uninsured driving.

Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality Theresa May expressed her disappointment at the decision, which cannot be appealed against and which the UK cannot opt out of.

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