Single men face Aids tests for mortgages

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UNMARRIED men applying for large mortgages are being asked to take HIV tests by some of the country's largest lenders. l Building societies and life insurance firms say the tests are needed because unmarried men are "statistically" most likely to die of Aids.

The companies say demands for tests and questions about HIV status have become part of normal underwriting procedures for insurers providing life or endowment policies for people with mortgages.

Single and divorced men living in long-term monogamous relationships fear they could be stigmatised if they are forced to take an HIV test and then subsequently are obliged to disclose that they have been tested - even if the result is negative.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders, which represents companies that loan money to house buyers, said its members had no policy on questioning HIV status or asking for Aids tests. "It may be something that's been forced on them (the mortgage lenders) by the insurers. The council has never discussed the issue. More than half of all mortgages are arranged through a financial adviser of some sort."

The Association of British Insurers said it was standard procedure to ask for the tests on unmarried men who needed life insurance to cover large mortgages. "The procedure depends on individual companies," a spokesman said. "Very often they will ask for other medical tests as well. Statistics show the largest number of deaths are among single men. It is purely a statistical thing.''

This is not the first time that insurers have taken action to spot customers at risk from the HIV virus. Until last June, applicants for large life insurance policies were asked whether they had ever taken an HIV test. After complaints from the Terence Higgins Trust and the threat of a private member's bill, the ABI told members to change their forms to ask whether an applicant had tested HIV positive, rather than whether or not they had been tested.

"We would not be pleased to see the question on HIV testing in the old form, though it will take time for old forms to be used up and new forms printed," the ABI spokesman said. "But you have to bear in mind, those companies that do not underwrite so carefully, that do not ask for medical details so thoroughly, may charge larger premiums."

The spokesman said it was "disappointing" that by last month only a third of 105 insurance companies surveyed by the Consumers' Association had complied with the ABI recommendation: "It really does them no good at all to have the old wording on the form."