Insurers criticised for attitude to gay men -

Homosexuals still face discrimination when applying for protection policies, says Kate Hughes

Discriminating against people based on their sexuality should be a thing of the past. When it comes to personal protection like life insurance and critical illness, nobody should be able to demand sensitive information from homosexuals that they would not ask of heterosexuals. But in reality, an argument is raging over continued discrimination of gay men and their risk of HIV/Aids.

A report by Compass, an independent financial adviser for the gay community, has found that confusion, mixed messages and unreasonable prejudice about HIV/Aids is still frequently experienced by gay men applying for protection policies.

Until recently, it was standard practice for insurers to ask gay men who wanted life insurance or a critical illness protection policy about the number of sexual partners they have had, and whether they had safe sex or not.

In 2005, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) produced strict guidelines on what questions could be asked of applicants to assess the risks to their health. This means that no one can be asked about their sexuality or their personal behaviour directly. All applicants will now be asked generic questions like: "Have you ever tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis B or C, or are you awaiting the results of such a test?"

However, despite claims from insurers that they have embraced these guidelines, research suggests that gay men still find they are more likely to be subjected to unnecessary HIV tests than heterosexual applicants. According to Compass, more than 80 per cent of customer service staff at the major insurance companies still give incorrect information, often resulting in the demand for HIV tests when dealing with applications.

Equal treatment?

The stage at which insurers demand HIV tests seems to vary dramatically, and confusion among staff means that some gay men are still having to take a test to assure a small amount.

Some companies will not ask for an HIV test until the sum assured reaches £1m. Royal Liver, for example, has a limit of £1m of cover without HIV testing both for gay men within a Civil Partnership and married couples. But the report highlights failings by Legal & General and AEGON Scottish Equitable staff in particular, for imposing HIV tests on applicants for very low sums assured. Compass found evidence to suggest that even gay men aged 66-70 in civil partnerships had to go through the test in order to get cover when applying for a sum as low as £25,000.

Bright Grey's official stance is that they will not demand an HIV test for anyone on a sum assured less than £1m. The research has found that this is true of married couples but for civil partnerships the limit is reduced to about £250,000, contravening the discrimination laws. "It's remarkable that so many insurance companies are failing when looking after gay clients," says Chris Morgan of Compass.

Reality on the ground

"This shouldn't happen," says Jonathan French of the ABI. "There may be isolated occasions when employees get it wrong, but HIV testing is nothing to do with being gay or straight."

Legal & General refutes the suggestion that they discriminate against gay people. Russ Whitworth, director of claims and underwriting, says: "Legal & General fully supports, and is compliant with, the ABI Statement of Best Practice on HIV and Insurance. HIV risk is assessed based on exposure to the risk of HIV infection. We take no account of whether a male customer is gay; we do not ask customers if they are gay at any time. Our policy is to ask an applicant to take an HIV test for high sums assured for life cover – for single males, this is more than £300,000 and for married males, males in a civil partnership and all females, this is more than £1m."

Aegon Scottish Equitable also says their HIV testing limits are in line with the ABI's guidelines, but added: "We are disappointed by the findings of this survey and will be providing additional training to our customer service staff in order that they are familiar with our HIV testing limits and underwriting philosophy in order that this type of incident does not happen in future."

"It is against industry standards to even ask someone if they are gay as part of a protection application," says Roger Edwards of Bright Grey. "We now have a lot of work going on inside the company to alter the limits."

But he did warn that single men, regardless of sexuality, applying for insurance will still be put through an HIV test at lower cut off points than anyone else. "Statistically, you are more likely to be at risk of HIV/Aids as a single man," says Edwards.

The irony of all this is that according to figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), gay men are no longer the community at greatest risk of being exposed to HIV/Aids. In 2006, the last time the statistics were compiled, about 2 per cent of the male gay community were living with HIV/Aids. But, according to the HPA, almost half of all new diagnoses in the UK in 2006 were among those of Black African origin – predominantly heterosexual. About 3 per cent of this community in England is now living with HIV/Aids.

Morgan warns that if gay men or any minority group feel they are being discriminated against, they may turn their back on protection altogether. If a grey area continues to hang over the issue, not having financial protection means that those left behind could face crippling financial burdens if the worst happens, just when that money is needed the most.

WHAT INSURERS CAN AND CAN'T ASK

Questions an insurer can ask:
*Assessing HIV risk – a general question for all applicants about potential HIV exposure
*Negative and Positive HIV Tests – applicants will not be penalised for negative results
*Sexually Transmitted Infections

What an insurer can't ask:
*Sexuality: Insurers may not ask you any questions about your sexuality. Even if you inadvertently disclose this information, it will not be used in assessing your application. Instead, the HIV risk questions ask about your personal behaviour
*HIV risk: GPs are required to inform insurers if an applicant is HIV positive or is awaiting an HIV test result. They will not notify insurers of negative tests that have been taken. GPs are only contacted by insurers in a minority of cases and, even then, only with your consent. Typically this is done to get more information on a medical condition you have disclosed
*Sexually Transmitted Diseases: GPs are required to disclose sexually transmitted infections which have long-term health implications. GPs are not allowed to tell insurers if you have had a single instance of a minor sexually transmitted disease
*Civil partnerships: Because there is no data on the sexual behaviour of couples in a civil partnership, some life insurance companies are still treating these couples as single people for assessing HIV risk. Others are treating them in the same way as heterosexual married couples

Source – Association of British Insurers Consumer Guide for gay men on HIV and Life Insurance

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

    Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?