Why there's no such thing as uninsurable

If you can't find anyone to insure you, don't despair. You just need to know who to ask, says James Daley

Thousands of Britons struggle to get insurance for their home, their car or their life every year. Whether it's those with a chronic medical condition seeking health insurance, or people living on a flood plain wanting house insurance, finding cover if you're not Mr or Mrs Average can feel impossible.

In reality, however, there are very few people who will not be able to get insurance at all. While there are a few rare exceptions - terminal- cancer patients seeking medical insurance, say - there are an increasing number of brokers and underwriters who specialise in finding cover for the seemingly uninsurable.

Although many people give up their search for insurance after a few rejections, a couple of calls to the right person could find you covered in minutes.

FLOODING & SUBSIDENCE

Getting buildings and even contents insurance for your home can prove tricky if you live in high-risk area for flooding, or if your property has a risk of subsidence. Many people find that they get turned down for home insurance simply because they live in the same postcode as a high- risk flooding area.

Recently, however, insurers have become better at drilling down on a street-by-street basis, while the industry trade body has managed to commit its members to renewing cover (even if they'd rather not) in places where new flood defences are planned within the next five years or so.

More Than and Norwich Union, two of the largest insurers, have been among the more proactive companies in trying to implement house-by-house screening, rather than just looking at districts or postcodes. And Jane Milne, from the Association of British Insurers, says that even if you live in a flood-risk area, you should find cover without too much problem if your property is deemed unlikely to suffer a flood any more than once every 75 years.

If you have been flooded recently or are in a high-risk area, all is not necessarily lost. There are a few brokers and insurers, such as Bureau Insurance, who will try to offer you cover.

Chris Jordan, managing director of Bureau, says that one way of making your property more attractive to insurers is to install flood defences, to keep as much water out as possible in the case of a major flood. Milne adds that ensuring that you have tiled, not carpeted, floors, and that you keep your electrics above the likely flood level, should persuade insurers to take up your case. Bureau also specialises in covering houses that have suffered from subsidence. Jordan says that if a house has been underpinned properly, he rarely has any qualms about insuring it, even though most major providers would turn these clients away instantly.

PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Trying to get travel, health and life insurance once you own up to having a pre-existing condition is very difficult. While most insurers will be happy to let you sign up to one of their policies, they will almost certainly not pay out if you or your family need to make a claim that relates to a condition of which you were aware when you bought cover.

Kevin Carr, a senior technical adviser at Lifesearch, the insurance broker, says: "If you've had a heart attack or cancer, it's unlikely that you'll be able to get any life cover for at least five years. But it can be even longer.

"Insurers often postpone cover, too. If you're diagnosed with diabetes, your insurer would probably postpone your life cover for a year to see how you responded to treatment. But with a more serious illness, it can be five to seven years before they'll reconsider."

Specialist insurers, however, will often look at providing life cover for people with acute and even chronic illnesses much quicker, even immediately. Mike Douglas, chief operating officer of Partnership Assurance, which specialises in providing life cover for people with poor health, says: "The big 'factories' such as Legal & General, Norwich Union etc, have built a fantastic model for dealing with Mr and Mrs Average. But if that's not you, they're not set up to provide what you need. That's where we come in."

If you have a chronic health condition, it is essentially impossible to get medical insurance that will pay for the day- to-day maintenance of your illness. But there are some specialist policies that will at least pay out in the event of an acute flare-up of your condition. A specialist broker, such as the Insurance Surgery, should be able to advise you on the best policy for your individual case.

If you find that getting anyone to offer you medical insurance is difficult, it is worth considering using other forms of protection such as critical insurance cover, which will pay out if you contract a serious illness unrelated to your existing condition. Beware, though, that an increasing number of conditions are excluded from CI policies, so it's important to read the small print before signing up to anything.

CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS

One of the first things that all insurers try to determine when you apply for cover is whether you have any criminal convictions. If you have, you can almost always expect a hasty rejection, no matter how insignificant your crime, and no matter how long ago the conviction.

However, Graeme Trudgill, the technical services manager at the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA), says that insurers' attitude towards ex-criminals is often short-sighted. "Insurance is about trust and good faith, so if you're a convicted criminal, most insurers won't want to take the risk with you," he says. "But, as it turns out, these customers are often a really good risk because they're so happy to find someone to insure them, that when they get a policy, they're very careful."

Chris Jordan of Bureau, which also specialises in insuring ex-criminals, says that his customers tend to be people who've done their time and now have a steady job and want to settle down. However, they then find that they can't get a mortgage because no one will offer them buildings insurance.

Although Bureau says that it will look at all cases individually, Jordan admits that those convicted of certain crimes are much more likely to be turned away. "We will insure most criminals, but we do draw the line," he says. "All of our decisions are made on an underwriting basis, not on a moral basis. But we tend not to cover paedophiles, as they tend to get targeted by the local community, and we tend not to cover arsonists or people convicted for fraud - for obvious reasons."

Aside from Bureau, another insurance broker that specialises in helping ex-criminals is GMI, based in Sidcup in Kent.

You may also have difficulty getting insurance if you have been hit with a speeding fine, or if you have points on your licence for other reasons. There are, however, many more companies who will consider you if this is the case, and the good news is that minor endorsements on your licence will expire after four years. More serious offences, such as drink-driving, will stay on your licence for 11 years.

RISKY PROFESSIONS

Persuading insurers to offer you life or income protection cover can be a tall order if you're in the wrong profession or trade. Insurers tend to rate professions and trades in five different risk categories, and for those in the worst of these, most insurers will turn them down immediately for income protection or life cover.

Kevin Carr, from the broker Lifesearch, says that dancers, roofers and lifeguards are among a group of professionals who will find it impossible to get their hands on income- protection insurance from the main providers. However, he says that the Pioneer Friendly Society, a specialist insurer, is one of a small handful of companies that do not look at your specific line of work when underwriting this form of insurance

Ultimately, if your insurance needs are out of the ordinary - ie, you can't find anyone to cover you after a brief search on the internet - it is well worth seeking a broker to do the searching for you. There are very few groups of people who find that they can't get insurance at any price. Although you may have to accept less-than-ideal terms and conditions, or pay a higher premium than you would like, there's always someone willing to take a risk.

If you can't find cover, however, ensure that you put aside some money each month for an emergency.

Where to go if you can't find cover

* The Association of British Insurers has an "Information Zone" on its website that offers valuable advice for consumers. A good place to go for some tips on how to get insurance, and how to get the most from your cover.

www.abi.org.uk

* The British Insurance Brokers' Association offers a "Find a Broker" facility on its website, and also has a helpline. If you're having trouble getting the cover you want, its staff will be able to point you in the right direction.

www.biba.org.uk 0870 950 1790

* Bureau Insurance specialises in writing home insurance for those with flooding or subsidence problems, and all types of protection for former criminals. It also offers travel and life insurance for people with disabilities.

www.bureauinsure.co.uk 01424 220110

* Pioneer Friendly specialises in writing income protection insurance for people in higher-risk professions.

www.pioneer-friendly.co.uk 01225 752140

* GMI is an independent insurance broker that specialises in finding non-standard insurance cover - including insurance for those with criminal convictions, those who live in high-risk flood areas and people with adverse claims histories. It is based in Sidcup, Kent, but operates nationwide.

www.gmi-insurance.co.uk 020-8850 5531

* IFA Promotion provides details of financial advisers in your area, either over the phone or on the web. However, if you have a specialist insurance need, you may be better using Biba to find a broker

www.unbiased.co.uk 0800 085 3250

* Lifesearch is an independent broker that specialises in protection - from life insurance to critical illness cover to income protection.

www.lifesearch.co.uk 0800 316 3166

* Quote A Car Insurance specialises in providing motor cover for people with criminal convictions or endorsements on their licence.

www.quotea.co.uk 08707 70 90 70

* The Insurance Surgery is an independent broker that specialises in finding travel, medical, life insurance and other protection for people with existing medical conditions.

www.the-insurance-surgery.co.uk 0800 84 96 444

'I didn't think I'd find anyone to take me on'

Mark Forster, a 43-year-old motorcycle courier from Bedfordshire, was sure he would not find anyone willing to cover him when he recently went in search of income-protection insurance.

Mark, who is married and has an 18-year-old son about to move into higher education, said he was looking for cover to provide some financial peace of mind.

Working in a high-risk job, where he admits he has seen plenty of his colleagues get seriously injured, he was keen to know that he would have a financial cushion if he was unable to work.

"You get more and more commitments and you think that it would only take a couple of weeks out of work for the whole house of cards to come crashing down," he says. "So I wanted to buy income protection, but I didn't think I'd find anyone to take me on.

"In the past month alone, I've seen two of my colleagues have to take time off work after breaking their ankles."

Mark was unsurprised when calls to both Liverpool Victoria and Friends Provident ended in rejection. However, after calling Lifesearch, an independent broker, he discovered that the specialist provider Pioneer Friendly would be willing to cover him.

"In the end, it only worked out at about £8 or £10 a month more expensive than someone in a normal job," says Mark.

Pioneer Friendly is one of only a small number of companies to ignore your profession when offering income protection insurance. The company offered Mark cover of £1,200 a month tax-free in the event that he was unable to work, for a monthly premium of just £45. He is covered for the next 12 years, until he is 55 years old.

This gives him potential total cover of £172,800, compared to total premiums over the next 12 years of just over £6,400.

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