Shrinking market makes it harder for owners to insure their pets
Vets' bills continue to rise, making it vital to get cover, but insurers aren't making it easy. Chiara Cavaglieri reports
Sunday 09 October 2011
Just as young drivers are forced to dig deep for expensive car insurance, many pet owners face rising costs and a dearth of options as insurers leave the market. With vet bills predicted to rise by 15 per cent, how do customers get the best cover?
Lloyds TSB and Halifax recently announced they are pulling out of the pet insurance market, leaving some 50,000 owners having to find alternative cover. The Lloyds Banking Group, which owns both brands, has said that their underwriters Agria will not be offering renewal terms. Only a few weeks ago another prominent company, Petguard, cancelled hundreds of policies after changing its underwriter earlier this year and informed customers that it would not be able to find cover for existing conditions on any replacement policy.
The good news is that there are still 86 companies offering pet insurance, up from 74 three years ago according to a recent report from analysts Defaqto. The number of policies on the market has also jumped since 2008. A wide range of providers and policies can still make life difficult, though, and it is all too easy to get it wrong.
"There is certainly increasing choice for consumers. However, when taking out a policy, it is critical for owners to get the decision right first time," says Mike Powell, Defaqto's insight analyst for general insurance. "The financial consequences of getting it wrong can be severe."
New research from Sainsbury's Pet Insurance estimates that the average annual spend on a dog is £1,183, with 15 per cent going on medical costs. If you need to pay for overnight stays and operations it can be staggeringly expensive, so even a single visit to the vet can make a policy worthwhile.
"It really does pay to cover yourself for vet fees, which can be incredibly expensive," says Stephen Ebbett, a director of pet insurer Protectyourbubble.com. "The most common pet claims we receive are for lameness, arthritis, fractures, tumours and road accidents. Depending on the length and complexity of the treatment, vet bills for injuries and illnesses can run into thousands of pounds."
The level of cover for vet bills is the most important element but there are variations in how insurers approach claims. Some will set a fee limit such as £3,000 per incident or £5,000 towards all vet fee claims in a year; once you've reached that maximum or the 12 months are up, cover ends. When you come to renew the more comprehensive (and more expensive) policies, the vet fee limit is also renewed; if you stick with the same insurer and need to make ongoing claims, your pet can continue to receive treatment up to the specified maximum. These "lifetime policies" are superior, but if the insurer decides to withdraw from the market, as with Lloyds, the risk is that you have been paying over the odds on the understanding that you have ongoing protection.
This may be a risk work taking, however, as with the cheaper pet insurance policies you know for sure that once you've made a claim for a particular condition you won't be able to continue to benefit from that cover when you renew.
"If a pet develops a lifelong condition, changing policy will be difficult due to the pre-existing condition. The owner will therefore have to meet the full cost of treatment indefinitely," says Mr Powell.
Checking the details of exactly what is and is not covered is vital. Some policies cover only accidents and illnesses but others include check-ups and vaccinations. Many policies will set an age limit. For dog owners, the breed may also be a crucial factor. If your dog is a breed known for aggressive behaviour it may be uninsurable; dogs used to race or hunt, and competition dogs are usually excluded too. Some hereditary conditions may also be excluded, particularly for pedigree dogs.
"Many owners assume their policy includes the vast majority of conditions – and the best ones do. Others place exemptions for relatively common conditions, so be clear about what you do and don't need covered," says Kate Rose, the head of pet insurance at comparison site Confused.com
An important element is third-party cover for when your pet damages someone's property or injures someone. Holiday cancellation cover is useful if your pet is getting on a bit, so that you don't lose out if you need to stay at home to look after them. Check the excess level and consider raising it for a lower premium but not before you've looked for caps on the level of payout.
Kings Worthy, Winchester
Without insurance Ms Blatchford, 49, would have been hard pushed to cover the cost of treating the sore back of Rocky, her eight-year-old Welsh Section B pony. Fortunately, her NFU policy is comprehensive and covers not only vet bills but also treatment such as physiotherapy, orthopaedic work and treatment at a horse hospital.
"His treatment has so far has cost about £1,500 for the vet and another few hundred for the physiotherapist," she says.
Caroline, who owns her own company, Spotty Green Frog, lives with her husband and two daughters, Jessica, nine, and Katie, seven. She pays about £600 a year per pony for her policy, with an excess set at £145 on each claim, which has easily proved worthwhile. There is a second claim in place, pending approval, because Rocky is now lame in both front feet.
"For me, I would not hesitate to insure our ponies for vets' fees. If we had not had the policy in place, we could have been faced with making the decision not to get the best treatment for Rocky," says Caroline.
"He is a very important member of our family and this would have been a difficult decision to take and especially difficult to explain to my two daughters."
Will your credit card rewards be scrapped following new EU rules on charges?
Buyers beware of new-build home headaches
Bargain Hunter: First Utility's Cosy deal lets you heat your home from anywhere
What would happen if you put a statistician in a casino with £1m?
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
iJobs Money & Business
£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...
Day In a Page
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace