Price comparison site ComparetheMarket has been fined £17.9m by the competition watchdog for keeping home insurance costs artificially high.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said contracts for two years stopped insurers advertising more cheaply elsewhere.
It meant getting the cheapest possible deal was not as “simples” for consumers as the firm’s adverts suggest.
But the company hit out at the ruling, saying it “fundamentally” disagreed.
The CMA said clauses in contracts between December 2015 and December 2017 prohibited home insurers from offering lower prices on other comparison websites, and prevented these other platforms from expanding.
The competition watchdog found that this was likely to have resulted in higher insurance premiums for consumers.
But, in a strongly-worded statement, ComparetheMarket said it was disappointed with the CMA’s decision and did not recognise its analysis of the market.
“We fundamentally disagree with the conclusions the CMA has drawn and will be carefully examining the detailed rationale behind the decision and considering all of our options.” a spokesman said.
ComparetheMarket is one of the biggest price comparison websites and well-known for its adverts featuring meerkat puppets and their “simples” catchphrase.
“Price comparison websites are excellent for consumers. They promote competition between providers, offer choice for customers, and make it easier for consumers to find the best bargains, said Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA.
“It is therefore unacceptable that ComparetheMarket, which has been the largest price comparison site for home insurance for several years, used clauses in its contracts that restricted home insurers from offering bigger discounts on competing websites – so limiting the bargains potentially available to consumers.”
An investigation by consumers’ association Which? in 2018 concluded that some price comparison websites offering car insurance policies were riddled with errors.
It said millions of consumers were “not getting a clear picture from the websites they visit”.
Experts suggest consumers search on more than one price comparison website when buying utilities, financial products, and services.