There was this insurance broker. He was a rogue, but a useful one. It was the 1970s; that golden age before mobile phones, home computers and the internet. If you couldn’t afford motoring insurance—perhaps because you were spending all your money on Levi jeans, or accessories for your motorcycle, or just boozing it up down the pub—you simply didn’t bother.
You just rode around until the coppers jerked your lead (which was a lot more likely then than it is today). Then they asked for your documents (insurance, MOT certificate, driving licence). Then you gave them a Mickey Mouse name and a Disneyland address. Or, if the coppers recognised you, you told them contritely that you’d left your documents at home or something, officer.
At that time, all the rozzers could do was issue a "produce note" aka "produce slip" aka" produce document". So, with the relevant paperwork in hand, you visited a nominated police station within seven days. Or maybe it was five back then. The memory fades, etc.
If you failed to produce, it was an offence, and you’d be summoned for it (and probably summoned for failure to ante-up with the other required documents).
Chances are that, when you were stopped, the police would already have clocked the fact that you had no road fund licence (tax disc). But there wasn’t much you could do to wrangle out of that offence, except try and convince them that you’d bought the vehicle that same day and were on your way to the post office to buy the road tax (after stopping off at home to pick up your required documents). And if that fabrication didn’t gel, which is mostly didn't, you’d be reported and subsequently fined.
How the insurance cover note scam worked
Anyway, this rogue insurance broker had an office in the neighbourhood. It was open seven days a week (half day on Sunday). If you went in and looked genuine and explained that you’d just been stopped by the coppers and had no insurance, you could pay this guy a small fee and he’d write you a "cover note". This, of course, was a temporary insurance document that was valid for either a week or a month. It allowed you to get immediate cover to prove your bona fides to whoever needed to know, such as when buying a tax disc at the post office.
This insurance broker worked his scam simply by keeping a few spare pages in his cover note book. So if you visited him on Wednesday, he could give you a cover note backdated from the previous Tuesday or Monday or whenever. Then you could show that cover note to the coppers, and that got you off the hook.
Of course, this emergency cover note was more expensive pro-rata. But if you needed one just once or twice a year, it was cost-effective. And naturally, the insurance company who provided the cover got their whack on top of the broker fee. It was a good racket, and everyone loved it except the police.
How that scam came to an end isn’t clear. One day the office was closed and the crooked broker was gone. But nicked? Retired? Or deceased? Who can say? But he wasn’t the only rogue, so the business moved elsewhere.
Today it’s a little trickier scamming the insurance companies. And we’re certainly not advocating it. These days, the system (from the industry and legal point of view) isn’t perfect, but they’ve got most of it pretty well sewn up.
They keep sophisticated databases that can check an applicant’s history and personal connections, and those databases are increasingly being linked to other databases. The industry has a long memory and will quite probably be able to access your ancient insurance history at the touch of a button.
On the street, meanwhile, British coppers can check pretty much instantly if you’ve got insurance cover. And if you haven’t, your vehicle is going to be impounded. Yes, you might get it back on production of a valid insurance certificate and a suitable amount of grovelling. But alternately, your vehicle might end up in the crusher. And note that the police can relieve you of your vehicle for not having road tax, or for not having an MOT, or for not displaying "L" plates, or whatever. Their powers are wide, and they’re not shy about exercising them.
Keep your insurance certificate to hand
Meanwhile, always ensure that you have adequate insurance cover, either in the form of a full certificate, or a cover note. And if you're travelling beyond these shores, perhaps into mainland Europe, keep the certificate with you. In some parts of the world, it's a legal requirement to present it on demand. And even the British coppers occasionally get their facts wrong with their ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras. Keep that certificate or cover note with you whenever you reasonably can. It can save a road or argument at the roadside when you've better places to be, and better ways to spend the precious minutes of your life.
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