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Customers frustrated with insurance claims handling

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Written by: Emma Lunn
26/08/2020
Insurance policyholders are experiencing weeks without information and waiting hours to be connected on the phone as the coronavirus crisis holds up claims, according to Which?

The consumer champion asked 95 Which? members who have made insurance claims over the past nine months to keep a diary tracking their experience during the process. More than four in 10 of the claims tracked directly linked to Covid-19.

The cases ranged from cancelled holidays to house repairs, and exposed recurring problems with the insurance claims process.

Shifting the blame

People participating in the study typically faced communications limbo, inflexible procedures and companies shifting the blame. About a third of the diarists reflected negatively on their insurer’s handling of their claim.

More than half of the cases studied were about travel insurance claims, with 80 of the 95 journals beginning well after the beginning of lockdown.

Of the dozens of diarists, only nine reported having their claims settled in the time they kept their diaries.

Several diarists found themselves stuck between their insurer and other firms trying to shift liability – most typically airlines, tour operators and banks.

One man was left £226 out of pocket for five months while an airline, bank and insurer squabbled over liability for his loss after his trip to Malaysia and Japan was cancelled.

He told Which? that while he found the process somewhat of a “farce”, he was generally impressed with how supportive his insurer had been, although he found its claims process “tedious”.

Waiting on hold

Recent Which? research found that many airlines and tour operators have broken the law by not issuing refunds for cancelled trips.

It analysed 12,000 refund complaints worth a combined £5.6m, with the total time spent by customers pursuing the claims totalling 52,000 hours.

Collectively, the diarists logged 9.5 hours simply waiting to be connected to insurers on the phone, with the longest waiting time for a single call lasting 95 minutes. One member endured more than four hours of hold music across five calls logged in his journal.

Claimants also discovered that lockdown conditions placed severe strain on car and home insurers.

One man faced months without an upstairs bathroom when lockdown stopped repair work after a car crashed into his house.

The consumer champion has since contacted the insurer, which confirmed the work is now back on track, and has offered the diarist £300 compensation.

Poor customer service

As well as delays, other customers reported very poor levels of customer service. For example, one diarist spoke with nine staff at a travel insurer, during one 70-minute call, just to get a claims form.

A car insurance claim was dismissed because the diarist hadn’t notified the insurer before issuing repairs or used its online claims portal, while several others who were able to make claims discovered weeks later that updates and information requests were issued to them on the insurers’ websites, not by email or phone.

Which? is advising claimants to contact their insurer directly for advice before claiming, to keep detailed records of events and interactions with companies, challenge the terms and conditions of policies, and not to give up in their pursuit of a result.

FCA guidance

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued guidance to financial firms – such as travel insurers and card providers – on making it simpler for consumers to recover lost costs after cancelled travel.

Which? believes there also needs to be greater cooperation between the travel sector and financial services and has called for the FCA to consider its role in facilitating and promoting this.

This move would stop customers from having to keep returning to insurers with advice from firms in the travel sector, preventing lengthy, confusing and stressful processes.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “While the coronavirus outbreak has had a massive impact on the insurance industry, customers should not have to suffer such excessively long waits for insurers to respond to their claims, let alone resolve them.

“We expect the industry to step up its game to ensure the process is as efficient as possible for those making a claim.

“If you are struggling to get your insurer to act on a claim don’t give up. Whether it’s battling through extended hold times, submitting and resubmitting documents, or disputing how your claim has been assessed – for many people, persistence has paid off.”

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