Private Investor: Claiming for your accident could prove a right pain

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The Independent Online

I am old enough to remember a world pre-Google. I suppose almost everyone is, come to think of it, given how recently Google appeared on the scene.

I am old enough to remember a world pre-Google. I suppose almost everyone is, come to think of it, given how recently Google appeared on the scene. I remember when I first heard of it, when it was suggested to me by a technically minded colleague as an alternative to the then ubiquitous Yahoo. That was as far back as 1996, I think.

But the rapidity and possible fragility of the Google phenomenon has evidently made its float extremely hazardous. They say one should only invest in things one understands, and, while seemingly everyone uses Google all the time, I for one do not really know how Google makes its money. Thus, in common with so many, I have steered clear of its float.

I might be tempted, but I'll have to put "Google" and "business model" into the search engine first. For now, I have been distracted by a much more mundane sort of financial affair.

Years ago during a spell looking for work (sounds so much nicer than "six months on the dole", don't you think?) one of the rules I decided to follow to protect my morale and sanity was "don't read the bank statement". Nowadays I'm much more inclined to take the time to run through the items, each entry telling its own story of love, hate and debauchery. I recommend you to do the same because you can see those little bits of inertia selling you have found yourself prey to. You know, the old gym club membership that you never use; the direct debit for an investment that you should have stopped ages ago; the accident and sickness plan you signed up to years ago, but which is pretty useless.

I did indeed sign up for one of those accident and sickness plans that feed on human worry and frailty. Back in 1993 the AA promoted a scheme run by Eagle Star that for £5 a month would give very modest benefits for very serious injuries. Now on my bank statement I see the monthly payment has risen to £7 or so, because of the inflation linking I agreed to when I signed up and is now payable to www.zurich.co.uk, ie Zurich Insurance, which took over Eagle Star years ago.

I wanted to stop the payments but it occurred to me as well that I might be eligible to make a claim for some time I spent in hospital over a year ago after a nasty injury to my arm. I guessed that the injury and small disability that resulted from it wouldn't qualify for a proper payout, but I thought it might be worth asking.

I guess the policy has set me back about £700 since I set it up. Quite a bit when you look at it that way. Having eventually found a phone number for the people who now run the scheme I find that I'm not eligible to make a claim so late. In fact, you have to make a claim within a month of the injury, at least as it was explained to me by the Zurich/Eagle Star staff. I exploded. I cannot understand the mentality that lies behind such a rule.

Imagine if you had just been in some horrific industrial accident and you lost your sight. You might, in those circumstances, have bigger things on your mind than your AA/Eagle Star/Zurich policy. Even if you paid in thousands, it would seem that you won't get a penny, automatically and as of right, if you claimed, say, six weeks on.

When I checked all this a few weeks later before writing this article, this "30-day rule" was confirmed, although this time I wasn't just told (in effect) to get lost but that they would "look on each case on its own merits" if claims are made after 30 days. I was also told that I ought to read my policy documents more carefully, which I suppose is true. I was also informed that the 30-day rule was something that the AA had stipulated, rather than Eagle Star/Zurich.

I suppose it's still worth having a go at a claim, but I doubt if I'll have much success. I am left with the thought that if I'd put my £5 or £7 a month into a high-interest savings account I'd have had about £1,000 to defray incidental hospital costs, such as a taxi or two, (I was on the NHS) and the pain and inconvenience of the after-effects of my accident. Self-insurance would have been a much better option.

s.o'grady@independent.co.uk

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