Insurance: Are you protected?

Travel agents are under scrutiny over how they're selling insurance, says Mark MacKenzie

Organising your travel insurance at the same time as buying your holiday makes sense. But buy it from a high-street travel agent and you could be inviting trouble.

According to a survey in this month's Which? magazine, the way travel insurance is sold by some leading high-street agents could result in holidaymakers travelling with their belongings underinsured or, worse, being liable for hefty medical bills if they fall ill while away.

Among the worst offenders are familiar names, well-known retailers that, according to Which?, fail to follow even basic procedures to ensure customers are adequately covered.

In search of a standard policy for a two-week holiday in Spain, Which?'s mystery shoppers spent three months visiting branches of high-street travel agents, as well as 10 independent agents. Alarmingly, only in 19 per cent of enquiries did retailers explain the level of cover a policy provided and only once were any exclusions made clear.

"The onus is on the company selling the product to explain what's included and what isn't," says Ashley Gunn, head of money research at Which?. "Unfortunately they just don't."

More disconcerting, however, was the fact that only 35 per cent of enquirers were asked to declare any existing medical conditions - a potentially disastrous omission given that something as simple as a previous slipped disc can invalidate medical cover.

"It's very worrying," says Gunn. "If something happens to you in America, for example, and an ongoing condition affects your claim, you could be liable for expenses running to millions of pounds." In comparison with policies bought from high-street agents, those purchased over the phone fared better - but only just. Of 36 additional insurers contacted by researchers, only half asked about medical history.

In addition to reading policy small print very carefully, Which? advises travellers to get a European Health Insurance Card, available from the Department of Health. Many insurers will waive a policy's medical excess if you have one and need treatment within the EU.

A crucial difference between high-street agents and other retail channels is the way they are regulated. Products sold by financial services organisations are regulated by the Financial Services Authority, which means that dissatisfied customers have recourse to a financial ombudsman in the event of a contested claim. "In theory," explains Gunn, "you can take a complaint about a travel agent to a financial ombudsman, but the problem is proving you've been misled."

And even insurers who do fall within FSA rules have room for improvement; in Which?'s survey, only two-thirds correctly informed customers they were regulated. Which? has handed the results of its survey to the FSA and is lobbying the government to bring high-street agents under FSA rules when a review of travel insurance takes place next year.

"There's no reason why travel agents should be excluded from insurance regulation," says the editor of Which?, Neil Fowler. "People should have the same protection, regardless of where they buy insurance."

Which?'s experience on the high street contrasts sharply with that of buying insurance online. Most websites ask about existing medical conditions during the quotation process, and potential purchasers can usually download policy documents before making a transaction.

The survey also uncovered a number of policy booby traps. While most operate a standard excess of £50 or £100, some people have been charged separate excesses when claiming for more than one item. Another useful tip is to check the details of your home contents insurance, as most policies offer some level of cover for belongings away from the home.

Which?'s findings come in the same month that Sainsbury's Bank, a relative newcomer to the travel insurance market, published its own research claiming that this year up to 8 per cent of British holidaymakers, an estimated 2.5 million people, will travel without any insurance whatsoever.

peopleNational cycling charity CTC said he 'should have known better'
Life and Style
The fashion retailers have said they will now not place any further orders for the slim mannequin
Arts and Entertainment
Ugne, 32, is a Lithuanian bodybuilder
tvThey include a Lithuanian bodybuilder who believes 'cake is a sin' and the Dalai Lama's personal photographer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager (FP&A) - Surrey - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful leisure company is seek...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionist, Bar and Waiter / Waitress & Housekeeping

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The positions above are available either part ...

    Guru Careers: Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager

    £25K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager ...

    Day In a Page

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food