Meet Jay Jay, the dog barking mad at her bank

NatWest’s decision to scrap its pet insurance has hurt customers who feel loyal to the firm.

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The Independent Online

Jay Jay is a cavalier King Charles spaniel. She lives with daughter Mary Lou in Greenford, Middlesex. The pair have been insured with NatWest for years but last week their owner, Annie Heffernan, was told that the bank is stopping cover.

In a letter, the bank said “alternative arrangements have been made to ensure that you have the option of continued cover”, but it added: “The terms of your new policy will not be identical to your existing one.”

That worried Ms Heffernan. She wants to know that her dogs have the insurance they need so that if either of them ever needs medical help, she can afford it. So she rang Direct Line, the company which NatWest said would be taking over the policy, to find out what would be different. What she was told sent the pensioner into a panic.

“I telephoned Direct Line and was told that under no circumstances would transfers from NatWest Pet Insurance include cover for animals aged over 10-and-a-half. [Jay Jay is 12, while Mary Lou is eight.]

“The operator told me that only one of my dogs would be insured and that the premium for her would be the same price as what I currently pay for both. I was shocked,” she said. “I’ve been with NatWest for more than 20 years and didn’t expect them to suddenly desert me.”

To add insult to injury, the letter suggested that Ms Heffernan call an 0870 premium number if she didn’t want to go ahead with the new quote. “They simply don’t seem to care about their customers. The bank is shutting branches and withdrawing services, and then making extra money if we need to ring up and do something about it,” she said.

She believes the problem could affect hit a lot of pet owners who insure with NatWest. “The Direct Line operator told me she is having to refuse seven out of 10 transfers for NatWest customers due to the age of their animals.”

A spokesperson for NatWest said the issue affected a very small number of people, adding: “Our focus is determined by where our customers need us and where we can serve their needs better than anyone else. Applications for these products have been very small in recent years, so we are transferring ownership of existing customer policies to Direct Line Group. Any other products these customers hold with RBS and NatWest are unaffected.”

That was no comfort to Ms Heffernan, so she contacted i for help. We asked Direct Line to explain and it said that what the pensioner had been told was wrong, that while the firm doesn’t normally offer cover for older pets, it will for the customers transferring from NatWest. It said: “We apologise for any confusion. Ms Heffernan was provided with incorrect information and should have been directed to the letter she received.”

 The letter said that a quote from Direct Line would be issued automatically. “The quote will give continued cover for her pets, irrespective of their age,” the insurer explained. It was a pleasing result for Annie but the story raises fears that older pets will find it hard to obtain cover.

But not all insurers turn down pets because of age. Ben Wilson, a pet expert at Go Compare, said: “Most insurers have no age restrictions on cover, so it should not be too difficult to track down a decent policy. However, elderly dogs do carry more of a risk, so switching to a new insurer may mean a considerable hike in premiums.”

The comparison site yielded several insurers which may offer cover for Jay Jay, including Animal Friends, More Than, AA, John Lewis, L&G and M&S. John Ellenger, head of pet insurance at More Than, said: “We have no upper age limits on our policies but it is important to remember that if a pet has had a previous illness or treatment, that condition won’t be covered by a new insurance policy.”

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