Tony Brentnall, of Guildford, Surrey, was suitably tempted when the sales bumph from Legal & General landed on his doormat.
He already has contents insurance through his mortgage lender, with which he is happy. But he decided the sales pitch for Homesafe Umbrella Plan was worth looking into. After all the policy claimed to be 'unbeatable value', and it seemed so simple to obtain a quote. All he had to do was ring a freephone number and answer two questions: How many bedrooms did his home have and what was his postcode.
Alternatively, he could complete the coupon attached to the letter and return it to L & G. And 'We'll give you an instant quote on your home contents insurance as well as a free gift,' gushed L&G.
Mr Brentnall decided to complete the coupon. Apart from the two questions, L&G needed additional information to provide 'a prompt quotation'. Mr Brentnall answered the extra questions and sent off the form. He duly received his free gift, a coinholder key ring, but no instant quote - in fact he has received no quote at all.
Instead, he got a rejection letter from L&G. The letter says: 'Unfortunately due to the restrictions of our qualifying criteria for this plan we are unable to offer you a quotation at the moment.' Mr Brentnall, who is a solicitor, was intrigued. He says :'I have resided in my bungalow for two and a half years, have no judgements against me, and have been with the same employer for 20 years.
'Could it be that I was honest enough to declare a claim for theft from my wife's place of work. She works in a shop for one afternoon a week and had her credit cards and cash stolen. Because our current policy covers theft inside and outside the home, we claimed on the insurance.'
The application form for L&G asked whether he had made any claims in the last three years, and he had answered 'Yes'. But nowhere in the effusive promotional literature does it mention that the policy is only available if you have not made a claim. In fact, you get the opposite impression. The literature makes great play of the fact that if you are over 50 and have not made a claim for three years, you could qualify for a big discount.
An L&G spokesman confirmed Mr Brentnall's suspicions. If an applicant has made a claim on a policy in the last three years, the Homesafe policy is not available. Mr Brentnall is not losing sleep about his rejection but is annoyed at the waste of time. To raise people's hopes in this way is hardly playing fair. Why does L&G not spell out at the outset that it is not worth putting pen to paper if you have made a claim on another policy in the last three years?
The L&G spokesman said: 'There may be other circumstances that come into play and equally we can feel free to alter the timescale on it. We are only taking claim-free clients for our direct business. It is designed for premiums as cheap as possible. You can always apply for a L&G policy through a broker or even by letter to us.'
Insurance companies may say that they welcome everyone with open arms and will obtain cheap cover into the bargain, but in reality they only want people who have not - and will not - claim. The insurers argue that the good risks should not have to subsidise the bad.
But our criticism has not gone unheeded. The L&G spokesman said: 'We are a customer-driven company, and we will take any comments into account when we revise the literature.'