One man's Twitter fight reveals danger of protection policies


What use is an insurance policy that doesn't pay out when you need it most? This is the view of consumer Chris Hargreaves who is waging a one-man campaign to force insurers to rewrite their income protection policies.

Despite buying income protection from Scottish Provident, Chris found himself without cover when he suffered illness and was unable to work. Now the chauffeur from Bury is fighting to stop the same happening to others.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Under the name 'Angry Policyholder', Chris has used Twitter (@scotprovsaysno) to drum up support. He has attracted over 13,000 followers and is beginning to succeed in his goal to overhaul the industry.

Chris's gripe lies with the issue that if you are able to perform simple daily tasks, certain income-protection insurance policies refuse to pay out.

Known as 'work task' policies, this type of cover is often sold to manual workers and those with higher risk of a claim. Unlike for other customers, where insurers pay out if they are unable to pursue their own occupation as a result of illness, a work task policy will only pay out if the claimant is unable to perform two from a list of six basic tasks.

However the tasks are so simple – such as holding a pen or carrying 1kg for 5m – that it is almost impossible for people to claim even if they are not fit for work. This means consumers face financial strife if they fall ill and are left without the means to pay their mortgage, rent and other vital household costs.

"My wife and I were in huge financial difficulty as a result of this and had to ask for help from my parents," explains Chris. "But in the end it became less about the money and more about the principle of fighting against a badly designed policy."

Industry action
The industry appears to be divided about the poor design of these policies. Scottish Provident fought Chris over two years to avoid paying out, while Aviva took action to address the issue by announcing a rewrite of some of its income protection policies back in March. The provider made the change following a year-long review into how policies are underwritten and how occupations are classified in terms of risk.

"We recognised that the occupational classes on which income protection cover was based needed to better reflect today's level of risk and improvements in workplace health and safety," said an Aviva spokesperson.

"We also recognised that 'own occupation' cover would give customers certainty that they are financially protected if they are unable to do their job through illness or injury, which is why we have strived to provide these terms for as many customers as possible."

Chris wants to eradicate the activities of daily work from income protection policies. He believes that all plans should relate to the policyholder's own job, so that in his case he would have got benefit automatically because he was not able to drive.

In July 2009, Chris suffered internal bleeding and was admitted to hospital where he spent the next three months being treated for an ulcer as well as for a pulmonary embolism. "I was on a drip a lot of the time, I had six blood transfusions and I suffered fits and seizures," said Chris.

Despite Chris clearly being unable to return to his work as a chauffeur while he continued to be treated, when his broker claimed on Chris' Scottish Provident income protection policy in September 2009, the insurer turned it down.

It said Chris was not incapable of carrying out two of the six work tasks described in its policy. Chris took his case to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which ruled in his favour earlier this year. He received £4,800, including compensation of £100.

But that wasn't enough and Chris wanted to bring the injustice of these policies into the public eye. His Twitter campaign has received support from the industry and the media, and Aviva has responded by rewriting 95% of its new protection policies.

"I am pleased about this, but what about the hundreds of thousands of existing policy holders who are paying for these completely worthless policies?," said Chris. "They are trying to do the right thing; be cautious and protect their income but they will find themselves without cover when they need it most."

"I'm not suggesting people cancel work task policies and go without cover, but they should contact friendly societies [which only offer own occupation protection policies] to see if they can switch to a policy that actually serves its purpose."
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