Are disabled people being ripped off with travel insurance?
I am always accepted as an equal when travelling abroad. That is until I apply for travel insurance. As soon as I state the fact that I have cerebral palsy, my premiums shoot up.
I've never been declined cover, but I always end up having to pay more because of my condition. For example, a quote for travel insurance with Direct Line for a trekking holiday in Cyprus would have cost me £40.84 without declaring my condition, as opposed to £52.33 after highlighting my disability.
There are endless reasons given by the insurers as to why I should be considered to be more of a 'risk' than any 'able' person. But am I any more of a risk than a smoker, for example?
I've only got the use of one arm so sure, when climbing mountains or trekking through jungles I have to be wary of the way I walk. However, despite getting a few cuts and bruises I've never had to make a claim and yet it always feels like I'm being interrogated when applying for travel insurance.
For people without health problems there are just a few decisions to be made when choosing a travel insurance policy; single trip or annual and whether to go for European or worldwide.
However, it is a more complex issue if you are travelling with a pre-existing medical condition. This applies to a large section of the population who have an infirmity or illness classing them as disabled. According to the Office for Disability Issues, there are more than 10 million people with a long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK, amounting to 18% of the population.
With inflated premiums common for disabled travellers, it is hardly surprising then that many choose to travel abroad without any travel insurance at all. A further 1.3 million people with a known medical history travel without letting their insurer know of their condition.
But withholding such key information could mean their cover may be invalidated, leaving them to pay for an expensive hospital bill or arrange their own flight home.
Since 1 October 2010, the Equality Act replaced most of the Disability Discrimination Act, making it illegal for insurers to offer less favourable products and services based on someone's disability. However, it's not inherently against the word of the law for you to end up paying more than a non-disabled person looking for effectively the same cover.
This is because while simple blanket bans are out, insurance companies can still take underlying health issues and physical or sensory impairments into account when calculating the premiums they offer.
It comes down to one word in the legislation: 'reasonable'.
Given that it's an industry based on the calculation of risk, the Equality Act still allows the insurance industry to apply premiums to disabled people for a particular set of circumstances just as long as they can show that they are fair and justifiable; and therefore 'reasonable'.
However, the insurance industry rejects any criticism. Erica Nelson, spokesperson for Direct Line, says: "We try to find ways of covering people where possible, and we price our policies based on a series of condition-specific screening questions, using the support of independent medical experts. Wheelchair use can be an indicator of the severity of a condition but is not a factor in itself. If a customer with a wheelchair asks for a quote we would be asking about their condition, not their mobility."
Ian Crowder, spokesperson for the AA, adds: "At the end of the day, we want to know an individual's risk of being hospitalised or needing costly medical treatment while on holiday. But on the whole, unless there is an underlying medical condition, we don't regard disabled people to be higher risk than others."
So is it possible to get cover with a competitive premium?
One of the seemingly better companies to insure with is the AA. It has a comprehensive range of insurance policies for those with impediments such as cancer, heart disease, asthma or diabetes.
Direct Line is also happy to insure people with various disabilities and there is no problem getting a quote for a wheelchair user, although this has to be done over the telephone rather than online, as there may be specific questions to be answered.
If you feel the stigma of being interrogated by the main companies is too much, there are a number of specialist insurers you can turn to (see our list below). They have a wealth of experience and can be very helpful.
If you feel you've been unfairly treated, you should first complain to your insurer in writing. If that doesn't work, you can then make a formal complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which will look into the matter for you. Alternatively, contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission which has detailed information on its website about equality should you feel you have unfairly paid higher premiums.
All this can take a lot of time and effort, of course, which may explain why so many disabled people neglect to take out insurance.
• The following DirectGov website offers general advice for people travelling at home and abroad
• The Equality and Human Rights Commission offers advice for people who feel they may have been unfairly treated equalityhumanrights.com
• Travelbility provides cover for people with disabilities when travelling worldwide 01424 215 315 travelbility.co.uk
• Direct Line provides a wide range of cover for disabled people 0845 246 8704, directline.com
• The AA provides a range of cover for people with disabilities and can arrange insurance for winter sports 0800 975 5820, theaa.com.
If you’ve have a complaint about a financial service product you have bought but the company you bought it from refuses to resolve your problem after eight weeks, the Ombudsman can help. The Ombudsman will investigate and resolve the matter. The Ombudsman is independent and its service is free to consumers. The Ombudsman may find in the company’s favour but consumers don’t have accept its decision and are always free to go to court instead. But if they do accept an Ombudsman’s decision, it is binding both on them and on the business.