Give a little info, get a little discount

A new insurance company plans to offer lower premiums to good drivers by monitoring their journeys.

Car insurance is a tricky market to operate in, because companies are forced to go with only the broadest strokes of information in trying to work out how risky a customer is – age, career, and, despite the ECHR ruling it illegal last year, gender – so that they can correctly price premiums. For older drivers, they also have information about previous claims, but when it comes to insuring new drivers that isn't available. As a result, premiums for young drivers tend to be high across the board, with little option but to buy the cheapest car available and wait for them to come down.

Insurance company Young Marmalade tries another way around the problem: by monitoring the driving habits of customers. TotalInvestor reports:

When you purchase a low-powered car from Young Marmalade, the free installation of a black box can cut your insurance premiums into half. By monitoring the driving behaviour such as acceleration, braking, what time of the day the car was driven and at what speed, Young Marmalade provides affordable telematic insurance premiums.

The company calls the package "Intelligent Marmalade", and it does seem to be an ingenious way around the catch-22 for young drivers, who can't get low premiums until they can prove they're safe, but can't prove they're safe until they pay for car insurance. The company claims it can save the riskiest group, young men, almost £4,500 a year.

The only downside is that, well, it's a bit creepy. Despite growing awareness – and, amongst the age group Young Marmalade targets, acceptance – of the sort of tracking performed online by companies like Facebook and Google, for the most part that has yet to translate into a similar attitude offline. While services like Foursquare and Facebook Places allow users to "check-in" with their location, they are still required to actively opt-in. The information Young Marmalade use to determine whether or not a car is being driven safely is extremely close to what would be required to track its location at all times (depending on whether or not turns are picked up).

Yet this is representative of a growing trend in the insurance industry, because fundamentally, if a company can offer thousands of pounds for a little privacy invasion, then there are going to be people to take them up on it. Improving the quality of information available to both parties should improve the efficiency of the market, which would be good for everyone. Just cross your fingers and hope that the data is kept securely.

Via Marginal Revolution

Police in Nice gaze at a bank of video screens. Could this be the insurance company of the future? Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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