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Cover note insurance: What it is, how it works, and why you might need it

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You must have car insurance to drive on public roads in the UK. But what happens if you need to take your car out before your certificate of motor insurance has arrived? That’s where a cover note for car insurance comes in, allowing you to legally drive before you have your official documentation.

Below we delve into what exactly cover note insurance is, when you might need to use it, and how it does (and does not) differ from your full policy.

What is a cover note for car insurance?

When you take out a new car insurance policy, you may not immediately be issued your certificate of motor insurance. Instead, you may be sent a cover note, confirming that you have taken out a policy, while you wait for the certificate to arrive. Importantly, this cover note can temporarily act as your insurance documentation if needed, meaning you are still covered even if your official certificate takes a bit longer to arrive.

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When are cover notes issued?

In theory, a cover note would be issued when you take out a car insurance policy, but before the policy has been fully processed and the certificate authorised. In practice, processing and supplying certificates of insurance is much faster now than it used to be, meaning cover notes aren’t as common as they once were.

You’re more likely to immediately receive your certificate of motor insurance via email, or at least be sent it within 24 hours of payment. The paperless nature of most policies these days therefore means you may never need a cover note.

However, there are still times when you may still receive a cover note, including:

  • If you apply for car insurance over the phone or by post, rather than online
  • If you have altered your insurance policy
  • If your provider is unsure about the risks of your policy and wants to examine more closely
  • If you are getting insurance from a smaller provider or broker
  • If the insurance provider is having technical issues and can’t immediately send out a certificate
  • If you have taken out emergency or temporary car insurance, and don’t immediately receive a certificate

How does cover note insurance work?

Cover note insurance essentially works in the same way as your standard car insurance policy. If you were to get into an accident before receiving your full certificate of motor insurance, then you would still be able to make a claim thanks to your cover note. Similarly, were you to be pulled over by the police – for example, if they notice you haven’t yet been registered on the Motor Insurance Database (MID) – your cover note would act as proof that you had car insurance.

Importantly, a cover note is only temporary. Most of the time it will expire after 30 days, though in certain circumstances you may be able to request that the cover note be reissued.

When you receive your cover note, you should always make sure all the details are correct; if not, your policy may be invalid.

If for any reason you are not in possession of your certificate of motor insurance, you should request that your insurance provider send you a cover note.

What information is in a car insurance cover note?

Typically, the information on your cover note is the same as on your car insurance certificate. This means it would include:

  • Your full name and address
  • Any named drivers
  • Your vehicle registration number
  • A description of your vehicle, e.g. make, model and production year
  • The start and end dates of your cover
  • The expiry date of your cover note
  • The level of cover, e.g. third party insurance, third party, fire and theft insurance, or fully comprehensive insurance
  • What you are using the car for, e.g. social, domestic and pleasure, commuting, or business
  • Your excess
  • Your policy number
  • Any special conditions

What are the benefits of cover note insurance

The biggest benefit of cover note insurance is that it means you can start to drive, legally, without needing to wait for your full car insurance certificate to arrive.

In Northern Ireland, if you do not have your certificate of motor insurance, you can also use your cover note when taxing your car – another legal requirement before taking your car on the road. A cover note isn’t needed to tax your car in England, Scotland or Wales, however, as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will check the official Motor Insurance Database (MID) instead.

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Difference between a cover note and a full insurance policy

There aren’t that many differences between a cover note, and your full certificate of motor insurance – the former is simply a temporary placeholder while you wait for the latter. However, there are a few things to bear in mind:

Cover note Certificate of motor insurance
Temporary document Fully underwritten certificate of insurance
Typically expires after 30 days, or when you receive your certificate, whichever is earlier Lasts as long as your insurance policy
Used as proof of a policy, with basic details Contains the full details of your car insurance policy

In summary

Nowadays, given the speed of processing certificates of motor insurance, you may not end up encountering a cover note.

However, a cover note becomes vital when there’s a delay between you taking out a policy, and you receiving your certificate. With cover note in hand, you can legally drive on public roads in the UK, safe in the knowledge that you both have proof of your policy, and cover if anything were to happen.

Frequently asked questions about cover note insurance

It may be possible to obtain a cover note for other types of insurance policies besides car insurance. The principle should be the same: the cover note will act as proof of your policy where anything to happen, until you receive your full documentation.

While the exact duration of the cover note is down to your insurance provider, normally it will expire after 30 days, or be voided once you receive your certificate of motor insurance, whichever is earlier.

If you lose your cover note, you should contact your insurance provider or broker in order to obtain a new one. You should refrain from driving until you have your replacement cover note.

As long as you have car tax and a valid MOT certificate (if needed), you will be able to drive your car immediately once you have received your car insurance cover note.

Connor Campbell

Finance Writer

Connor Campbell is an experienced personal and business finance writer who has been producing online content for almost a decade. 

Connor is the personal finance expert for Independent Advisor, guiding readers through everything they need to know about car insurance and home insurance. From how much it costs to the best insurance providers in the UK, he’s here to help you find the right policy for your needs. 

In his capacity as writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet, Connor explored a number of topics close to his heart, such as the impact of our increasingly cashless society, and the hardships and heroics of British entrepreneurs. His commentary was featured in sites such as The Mirror, the Daily Express and Business Insider

At financial trading firm Spreadex, meanwhile, his market commentary was featured in outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, Reuters and the Evening Standard

Connor is a voracious reader with an MA in English, and is dedicated to making life’s financial decisions a little bit easier by doing away with jargon and needless complexity.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.