The insurance industry is discriminating against older people with half of motor insurers refusing to offer quotes to people aged over 80, a charity has said.

Age Concern and Help the Aged – which are joining forces under the banner of Age UK – said half of the 25 motor insurers and one-third of the 25 travel insurers it approached as part of a mystery-shopping exercise automatically refused cover to people aged over 80, regardless of their health.

The charity said access to insurance became limited when people hit 65, with one in five companies also refusing to offer motor cover to people aged 65-9, while a third would not offer travel insurance.

It also warned that older people were likely to pay over the odds for insurance because of the lack of competition in the market.

It found that quotes for travel insurance for someone aged 60-65 travelling to Spain ranged from £11 to £72.

The difference in the cost of policies was even greater for some 80 or over, with quotes ranging from £40 to £413.

The charity said refusing insurance to older people not only sent a harmful ageist message, but it could also place unacceptable restrictions on people’s lives, preventing them from visiting friends and family abroad or taking holidays overseas.

The findings came on the day that the Equalities Office said the insurance industry should be allowed to continue using upper age limits.

Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: “We accept age should sometimes be taken into account in pricing insurance, but automatic age limits completely undermine the message the Equality Bill is supposed to be sending.”

Maggie Craig, acting director general of the Association of British Insurers, said: “The insurance industry is committed to providing competitive insurance for people of all ages . . . so we are developing a signposting solution that will direct older people to those insurers who can meet their insurance needs.”