Buying travel insurance? Make sure you read how this insurer treated its customer first …
Most of us would imagine that travel insurance is there to cover the basics – things like having your luggage stolen, or a holiday company going bust.
You might think it would definitely cover you for cancelling a £1,300-family holiday because a parent dies suddenly, just three days before you were due to travel.
But for you’d be wrong, as Kieran Brennan from Sterling, Scotland discovered.
Instead of paying out when his dad died, Kieran was told by insurers Staysure he wouldn’t get a penny – all because his dad had suffered from a heart condition Kieran had no idea about!
And that's despite Staysure admitting it can't be certain the health condition even caused Kieran’s dad’s death.
Kieran, the manager of a distribution company, took out a £130 travel insurance policy with Staysure last June to cover his family’s trips for the next year.
In October, Kieran, his wife and their two teenage children planned a half-term break in Lanzarote.
Tragically, though, Kieran’s dad, Michael, who lived in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, died suddenly just three days before the family was due to fly.
“Of course, we had to cancel,” Kieran told us. “I didn’t really give it a second thought and imagined the policy would pay out in such circumstances.
“In fact, when I contacted Staysure all seemed fine and they were sympathetic.”
It was only after Kieran had filled in and sent off multiple forms about his father’s death, including a death certificate and GP’s letter, that he started to realise that a payout was far from straightforward.
It emerged through medical records that his 90-year-old dad had suffered from heart disease, something that he had never mentioned to Kieran.
“And it turns out that there was a clause in the insurance policy that said it wouldn’t cover those named on the policy or any close relative if they had a pre-existing health condition,” Kieran told us.
“Which I understand. But the wording also says ‘pre-existing health conditions KNOWN TO YOU’, and I had no idea that my father had a number of heart problems. He never discussed this with me, so how could I know?
“It's not even certain these conditions led to my father’s death. But I wasn’t asked about close relatives anyway, not their health or their age.
“The bottom line is that this company and its underwriter, ERV Insurance Services, did everything they could to get out of paying.”
In a ludicrously argued letter to Kieren from ERV Insurance Services, a Mr Colin Allum wrote:
“Had there been a policy that required the completion of a proposal form to be completed for a gentlemen of your father’s age and medical record, there is no question that it is most unlikely that any Insurer would have been prepared to provide cover for him as the whole basis of insurance is that the event which occurs should be unexpected and unforeseen.”
- There was no proposal for Kieran’s father.
- Kieran did not know his father suffered from heart disease.
- Nor was Kieran asked about the health or age of any close relatives.
So, here is an insurance underwriter essentially saying that you should know all and any pre-existing health conditions of members of your closest relatives, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, or the policy won't pay out if their illness affects your travel.
And, if you don’t know about a pre-existing condition, well, tough!
Michael Brennan, 90, died three days before family holiday
Kieran brought his complaint to ASpokesmanSaid.com.
He told us, “My dad was 90. Show me a 90-year-old that doesn’t have something wrong! But how was I to know the full extent of dad’s medical condition? All I knew was that he’d taken high-blood pressure tablets for years. As far as I was concerned, his high blood pressure was well managed, as it is for millions of other people.
We contacted Mr Allum for a comment about Kieran’s case, but he was less than willing to discuss the decision.
We asked him the following questions:
- How can it be reasonable to refuse a claim when no specific questions were asked about the ages of close members of the family, or whether any had serious health conditions that were known to the insured party?
- How can Mr Brennan have been expected to know the details of confidential health-related matters of other parties if those people hadn't chosen to share them?
- Why have you assumed – as you clearly must have done – that Mr Brennan did know about his father’s conditions?
- Regardless of the legal niceties, do you not consider that, as a matter of ethics, you should have met this claim?
After contacting Staysure, Mr Allum would only say the following:
“There is a contractual complaints process that Mr Brennan can use to submit to with referral rights to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The FOS is free to the insured and legally binding on the insurer.”
Kieran now does indeed intend to take up his complaint with the ombudsman.
“It’s not about the money here,” Kieran told us, “it’s that I believe these people are acting unethically, and I would like people to know they should be very careful before paying for these policies. Be careful to understand all terms and conditions and ask about different scenarios.”
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for insurance to cover you and your family for this summer’s big holiday, you may want to ask yourself if Staysure and underwriters ERV Insurance Services are the kind of companies you want to deal with.
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