According to the Association of British Insurers' (ABI) annual report on household insurance spending, only one in four British households has home contents cover.

Some of this number may not have cover because they are unable to obtain it due to job status, postcode or background, but a major percentage will be people who just don't bother. Price could be a factor or the perceived hassle of finding the right deal could be to blame.

To discover more, Insurance Times sent out a secret shopper to look at the different ways the average person on the street can get quotes. They invited household/contents policies for a rented, partly-furnished, three bedroom semi detached house in London W7 for four adults sharing.

Telephone quotes

Company: Churchill
How Selected: From a pull-out full-page advert in the Yellow Pages.
Time it took for call to be answered: Put in queue, but answered within a minute. After couple of questions, I was transferred to the special risks team. After the same questions again, I was transferred to sister company Devitt Insurance Services.
Friendly: Yes.
Questions asked: A whole host, from personal details, address, security, claims history, whether near river, criminal convictions etc.
Time process took: More than 20 minutes.
Verdict: Although this took longer than the other two telephone firms, the process was thorough and they even made the suggestion I get a larger sum assured to cover all four people, which would work out cheaper if we split the premium. Price quoted on individual basis was £133.10. For all four of us, the quote was £211.15.

Company: Dial Direct
How Selected: From the Yellow Pages - name stood out.
Time it took for call to be answered: Immediately.
Friendly: Yes.
Questions asked: What sum assured did I want, when did current policy expire, postcode and number of people living at property.
Time process took: Less than two minutes.
Verdict: A waste of time. Once told that four people shared the house, the operator said the company didn't insure households of more than three people. When asked why, she said she didn't know.

Company: People's Choice
HOW Selected: From Yellow Pages - again, name stood out.
Time it took for call to be answered: Immediately.
Friendly: Yes.
Questions asked: Name, date of birth etc, address, age of property, number of bedrooms, owned or rented, any criminal convictions, occupation, when occupied, security, smoke alarm, what sum assured I wanted.
Time process took: About five minutes.
Verdict: Price quoted was £167 per individual per annum, but operator said if he spoke to underwriter he could probably get it down to £144. Very helpful service.

Broker quotes

Company: Premier Financial Services, Greenford Road, Hanwell
How Selected: From and because it is close to home.
Friendly: Yes, although the shop was not branded in any way (just a door with a buzzer) and I had the feeling I was the only person to have ever come in from the street.
Questions asked: Personal details, address, type of property.
Time process took: Five minutes.
Verdict: After taking the effort to walk to the company, I felt I should have at least left with a quote. The broker said he would call me back later in the day. He did point out the company only worked with one insurer - Legal and General - but not to worry as it was "the cheapest anyway".

Company: Century Insurance Centres, 13 Drayton Court Road, West Ealing. Shop no longer existed, but in its place was Budget Insurance Services.
How Selected: From and because it is close to home.
Friendly: Yes.
Questions asked: Name andpersonal details, address, age of property, security, owned or rented, number of people living there, criminal convictions, occupation, what sum assured I wanted, How much personal possesions were worth.
Time process took: approximately 15 minutes.
Verdict: Very efficient and pleasant. However, price quoted was higher than the rest at £193.41 per individual per annum.


How Selected: First company to come up when "home insurance" keyed into search engine.
Questions asked: Loads about the house, flood plains, subsidence, security, criminal records.
Time process took: About ten minutes.
Verdict: After keying in postcode and sum assured, I was quoted £98.84. After more questions, I was told as I was not a straight-forward case (because I did not live with my immediate family), I had to call the call centre.

Company: - part of Royal Bank of Scotland
How Selected: Second in search engine.
Questions asked: Detailed range from state of repair of property, to subsidence.
Time process took: About ten minutes
Verdict: I was referred to the insurance company and felt I was wasting my time with the internet. I was told an underwriter would call me later.