MoD advises soldiers to buy their own life insurance

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The Independent Online
THE Army, under fire for failing to pay out injury awards to soldiers disabled in Bosnia, has brought in private insurance brokers to sell life and accident cover to British forces personnel.

The Ministry of Defence has been encouraging new recruits to take out private life and injury insurance soon after joining up. Commanding officers also want them to insure their kit and uniform in case they lose their guns, boots or surveillance equipment. About a quarter of Britain's 110,000 serving personnel are understood to have taken out "forces cover" following advice from commanding officers.

The private forces policy pays out up to pounds 100,000 if a soldier is killed or loses his limbs or vision, and offers compensation of up to pounds 7,000 if a finger or toe is lost in battle. The squaddie, who earns pounds 35 a day as a new recruit at the age of 18, must pay the premiums, which can reach pounds 200 a year for a comprehensive policy.

Sources close to the Government say that the private policies take the pressure off the MoD to compensate soldiers who are hurt or killed on duty. The MoD has been criticised for failing to give awards to soldiers injured while on peace-keeping duties.

Last week, the Independent on Sunday revealed that Trevor Walker, a sergeant who lost a leg while on duty in Bosnia, will return to the High Court to try to win compensation from the MoD after a three-year battle.

MPs have said it is "disgraceful" that soldiers on poor pay should be expected to take out their own insurance to cover themselves if they are killed. Labour's Robin Corbett, MP for Birmingham Erdington, who has been contacted by worried constituents about the insurance premiums, said the Army should provide the insurance cover, not the soldier.

"It used to be the case that soldiers bought themselves out of the armed forces. Now they are expected to buy themselves in," he said. "It's quite wrong that if people put their lives on the line for their country the Army doesn't offer insurance in the line of duty."

The MoD has been allowing City brokers to go to Army barracks in Britain, Germany and other locations, to sell specialist policies, and Army pay staff are being asked to give soldiers the names of insurance brokers. The move, occurring throughout the RAF, Royal Navy and Army, has been condemned by parents of new recruits and the families of those who have lost relatives in service and received no compensation.

"These people are protecting our country. It's unbelievable that they are expected to pay for insurance premiums from their own salary for a high-risk job," said Dominic Sancto, whose brother Kirk was killed aged 19 in a boating accident in the Falklands. "The MoD is like any other employer and should be responsible for the health and welfare of soldiers."

The mother of a 16-year old-recruit, who last month joined the Irish Guards, said she was shocked by the news. She also received a long list of items, costing about pounds 150, to buy as a supplement to army kit. This included two black bin liners, two yellow dusters and a sewing kit."It's disgusting that they should be responsible for insuring their equipment. We had no idea that they were being advised to take out life insurance, either. They can't afford it on their wages."

Last year, 112 personnel were killed through injury, and hundreds more injured. Twenty British personnel have been killed while on active duty in the past five years.

The MoD says that personal insurance is voluntary for soldiers and that no one is being forced to take out policies. But insurance brokers have been conducting seminars on insurance for recruits in their barracks. "We undertake to give advice to individuals. There's no obligation to take out cover," said an MoD spokesman. "We get special rates. The pay staff are qualified to offer advice."

Guardian Insurance, which offers a special forces plan, has 30,000 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel on its books. It pays out if soldiers are killed or injured in battle or on manoeuvres, or if they lose their guns or their kit. Premiums range from pounds 70 a year covering basic loss of kit and injury, to pounds 400 for comprehensive life and accident assurance and kit cover. The company recently stopped charging higher rates to soldiers in the SAS, bomb disposal units and the Parachute Regiment.

"The military are quite keen on this. It's very much a specialist product for the Army," said a Guardian insurance spokesman. "We sell this particular policy direct to squaddies themselves and through brokers. We have intermediaries at the barracks."

However, a 30-day restriction on taking out insurance policies just before the outbreak of a conflict prevents soldiers taking too much of an advantage of the scheme.