Friday, 13 July 2012

More on Post Office home and contents insurance

This is a follow-up to an earlier post about my awful experience with Post Office home and contents insurance.

The Post Office said they were sending me a leaflet with instructions for how to claim the lower premium offered.  If I don’t follow the steps to claim that lower premium, I’m stuck with paying nearly £200 more for my home & contents insurance. It was supposed to be sent out “with your policy documents” and the covering letter I got with the policy documents said it was enclosed. But it wasn’t.

So I rang to ask where it was, and sat through the 1 minute 45 seconds of babble. But this time, I actually listened, because I wanted to see if I’d missed a bit about how paying monthly is effectively taking out a loan agreement, because someone in the call centre had previously claimed that the babble should have made me fully aware of the loan agreement I didn’t know I was taking out. But I still couldn’t hear any mention of loans or credit.

Anyway, I got through to a human and asked where my leaflet was. The man said it would be sent out separately.

“But the covering letter says it’s enclosed.”
“No, it’ll be sent out separately.”

Right. Whatever. I also had a minor amend to the policy, and the small print said I could do this without  charge, provided it was within 14 days of receiving the documents. The minor amend was to do with how close my house was to the nearest watercourse. When I got the quote, I said I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was just over a quarter of a mile away. Then I got my husband to check and it turned out that the nearest bit of the River Windrush is actually bang on a quarter of a mile away. I didn’t want to invalidate my cover with false information, so could they just amend my details to say it was pretty much exactly a quarter of a mile away?

Much fetching-of-supervisors ensued and then the nice man returned to say that the Post Office can’t offer me insurance any more.

Why not?
“Because your house is right by the sea.”
“It’s not the sea, it’s just a river.”
“Right. Well, we can’t offer you insurance. You’re too high-risk.”

That was it. After going through all this crap with the Post Office, I had to find another insurer anyway. (And quickly, because my previous insurance policy lapsed today.) I said I wished I’d never had anything to do with the Post Office, because it’s been a nightmare from start to finish. He apologised.

Then I asked if I’ll get my money back. (I’ve already paid £64.14.)  More fetching-of-supervisors.

The upshot is that I will get cover for the next ten days (until 23rd July) and only have to pay about £9 for this. The rest of the money I’ve paid will be returned, provided I send back the certificate. What certificate? A game of Twenty Questions established that they needed the schedule of home and contents insurance (although he originally demanded “the certificate of motor insurance” before I pointed out that this policy has nothing to do with cars). They will not accept a copy. It has to be the original. But once it’s returned, I get almost all my money back. The bit of money they’re keeping is to pay for the ten days’ cover which I now need as breathing space to put a new policy in place. Which would all be quite reasonable if I hadn’t already been through so much hassle.

To recap:

1. To take out Post Office home & contents insurance, or even get a quote for it, you need to have an occupation that’s already on their list, or pretend you have – but remember, any false information provided may invalidate your cover! 

2. Any joint policyholders will also have to have an occupation that’s already on their list. But you may find out after giving all the other person’s details and having a big wrangle about their job that the policy doesn’t allow joint policyholders anyway.

3. The Post Office promises to “beat your renewal quote by £50”. But if they can’t actually beat it by £50, you’ll only get the renewal-beating price once you’ve taken out more expensive insurance, paid a chunk of money up-front and jumped through a bunch of bureaucratic hoops. There’s also a wait of up to 60 days. (Because I was eventually refused insurance, I’ve been robbed of the chance to find out how long the wait really is and how difficult the hoops really are to jump through. I would love to hear from anybody who got further than me.)

4. Paying monthly involves taking out a credit agreement with a company you’ve never heard of. You will only realise this if you are smarter and more observant than I am. If you’re as dim as me, you will take the question “Would you like to pay monthly?” at face value and say “Yes, please.”

5. The name of the company you have the credit agreement with will be spelled in two different ways on your surprise credit agreement, not improving your confidence with the whole affair.

6. The leaflet explaining how to claim your lower, renewal-beating premium will be enclosed with your policy documents, according to the people you speak to and the covering letter of the policy documents. But it won’t really be enclosed at all, and when you ring back you’ll be told it’s arriving separately.

7. If you ring up to correct what you think is a minor detail on the policy, you may suddenly and unexpectedly be denied the cover you thought you had in place. You will then be forced to sort out insurance with an alternative provider anyway, after wasting hours of your life jumping through Post Office hoops.

8. If the Post Office unexpectedly denies you the cover you thought you had in place, there are more hoops to jump through before they will refund the money you've already paid.

9. Every call you make to try to sort out the mess will begin with a recorded message that lasts 1 minute 45 seconds. By proceeding with your call after this message you are supposedly giving your consent to various things mentioned on the recording. If you, like me, tune out as soon as you hear a recorded voice, you could be giving your consent to the Vogons building a new intergalactic superhighway and you’d be none the wiser.

To recap the recap: Please don’t go with the Post Office for your home & contents insurance, however good the deal looks.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The insurance deal that fails to deliver

The Post Office is currently offering a very tempting-sounding deal on home and contents insurance: “We guarantee to beat your renewal quote by at least £50.”  Sounds good, right?

I decided to try it, so I went for an online quote. But it wasn’t long before I came up against the first problem:: my occupation. I’m self-employed as a freelance copywriter. This occupation wasn’t listed on the Post Office dropdown. And I couldn’t proceed with the quote until I’d selected something from the dropdown.

I’m not a screenwriter or a signwriter. I’m not a newspaper retailer. I wasn’t any of the things decreed to be valid occupations by the dropdown list. So I was forced to give up. There was no option to skip that step, or come back to it later, or get extra help on it. I just had to give up.

Obviously, I don’t give up that easily. So I phoned them for a quote instead. When you ring the Post Office for anything to do with insurance, you are forced to listen to an insanely long recorded message. I timed it. It’s 1 minute 45 seconds. But that didn’t put me off either.

I got through to a human... and came up against the “occupation” thing again. They managed to find something on their systems that vaguely matched what I do. But then they asked if I wanted to put someone down as joint policyholder, I named my husband and the whole process started again. He’s a web developer, and they didn’t have it on their list. No, not a web designer. No, not development in the sense of international development.

The lovely Geordie lady I spoke to called in her supervisor, who decided that my husband could be put down as a “computer analyst”. “But that’s not his JOB!” I wailed. Lovely Geordie lady sympathised. I asked what the hell his job had to do with getting a home and contents insurance quote anyway, and she explained that certain jobs are higher-risk than others. Fair enough, I said, but given that we’ve established he’s not famous or notorious or bringing wild animals home at night, why can’t you just put his real job down? Because it’s not on the list. She could sympathise but not help.

My biggest concern was that I’d been told any false information could invalidate future claims, and here they were forcing me to put down a fake job for my husband. I agreed to move on with the quote when she assured me that the call was recorded and they had noted on the system that this wasn’t his actual job.

So we moved on. I was hoping they could beat my renewal quote of £199.21. But the final quote from the Post Office was a jaw-dropping £347.44. But, said the nice Geordie lady, we have this “beat your quote by £50” guarantee. So we can offer you £149.21, it’s just that terms and conditions are attached.

It goes a little something like this. They guarantee they can beat your quote by £50. And if they can’t, they will beat it anyway, because that’s what a guarantee is. But in the latter instance, you have to take out the insurance with the higher annual premium quoted and only once it’s up and running do they refund you the difference. You have to photocopy your current renewal quote and send it to them as proof, then they refund you the difference within 60 days. (This is made clear on their website).  If you’re paying monthly you have your monthly payments reduced accordingly (taking into account what you’ve already paid) and if you’re paying up front you get the difference refunded onto the card you paid with.

So... although they guarantee a cheaper quote, there can be a period of up to 60 days (and a bit of bureaucracy) between you and the savings. And in the meantime I would have to pay up a much bigger chunk of money than expected. We ran through the quote again, comparing it with my renewal quote. The Geordie lady confirmed it was a like-for-like comparison and we were entitled to get our insurance for £149.21, bureaucracy permitting.

I considered for a few hours before deciding to take out the policy, then rang back (and ignored the 1m 45s recording again). A different lady ran through my details and told me that the policy quoted for wouldn’t allow me to have a joint policyholder anyway, so all that fuss about my husband’s job was for nothing. She also explained that the £347.44 included a “monthly payment premium” which I hadn’t realised when I made the choice between paying monthly or paying up front. But hey, whatever.

Then another surprise. My first payment would be £64.14, followed by ten months at £28.33. Why was the first payment so high? Why were there only 11 months of payments? "That's just how home insurance is these days for the first year." But we get 12 months of cover, right? Of course; she seemed to think that was a very stupid question.

I asked her to clarify that they were definitely going to give me the cover for the renewal-beating £149.21 quoted originally. Yes, once they got the documents from me. A leaflet about what to do would be included in the policy details sent by post. So I paid the first instalment (which had to be paid straight away) and awaited my policy details. They came through straight away by email, with hard copies to follow by post.

Yet another surprise. My insurance policy documents included details of  a “fixed-sum loan agreement” with a creditor called BISL Limited. (Or possibly BFSL Limited; it was spelt two different ways.)
This Agreement is for a fixed sum loan to finance the cost of an insurance Policy ... The amount of credit provided under this Agreement is £256.60... The total amount payable under this Agreement  is £283.30. ..The total charge for credit is £26.70, which  consists wholly of interest. The interest rate is  10.41%. This interest is fixed for the term of this  Agreement and interest will be calculated  annually and applied monthly.

WHAT? Needless to say, this was the first I’d heard of it and I hadn’t consented to take out any kind of loan. I rang the Post Office again, ignored the 1 minute 45 seconds of recorded crap again and spoke to a completely different nice Geordie lady. She said:
  • It’s the same throughout the insurance industry: if you pay monthly, you effectively take out a loan agreement with the provider.
  • But “It’s not the same as a normal loan, like financing for a car, and it won’t affect your credit rating.”

“But why didn’t anybody explain this?” I asked. Apparently it was all explained in the 1 minute 45 seconds of recorded blurb you get when you ring up, and proceeding with the call means you’re giving your consent to this. But nobody listens to the recorded blurb! Why wasn’t I given the option at the point where I was asked how I wanted to pay? Apparently I was told. “We have a big green screen here and we have to read out all of it, so there’s no way you weren’t told.”

Basically, it was my fault for choosing to pay monthly. But, I said, paying monthly was the sensible choice because I was quoted such a huge annual sum. Well, said the lady, not to be rude, but you shouldn’t have taken out insurance with us if you can’t afford it. And if you cancel with us, you’ll have the same problem with other insurers.

No, I said, I won’t, because the other quotes I got were for smaller sums [£154.60 from Swiftcover and £156.67 from Axa], which I would be happy to pay up front. But the Post Office offered the lowest quote of all at £149.21. Hence my willingness to jump through hoops and pay more initially. Hence also my desire to pay monthly – because two twelfths of £347.44 followed by much lower payments sounded like a better bet than paying £347.44 upfront (though of course the whole payment thing didn’t quite work out like that in practice). Oh yes, she said, don’t worry about that. You will get the lower deal if that’s what we’ve quoted you.

There wasn’t much I could do. Apparently I had consented to the loan agreement, though I didn’t have any memory of doing so. Oh, and if I do cancel with the Post Office within 14 days of receiving my policy documents, I’ll have to pay an “arrangement fee” of £30. (If I cancel after 14 days, I’ll have to pay £35 plus the cost for the amount of time covered – presumably at the higher rate.) Any changes to the policy will incur an admin charge of £20, and I assume this includes changes to how I pay, so there’s no point trying to escape the monthly payment premium by coughing up the whole sum now.

Because of the hefty get-out fees, and because of the effort I’ve already expended getting the cover in place, I’ve reluctantly decided to stick with the Post Office insurance, for this year only.

The policy documents came through by post today with a cheery covering letter: “We guarantee to beat your renewal premium by at least £50 – see enclosed leaflet for details of what you need to do now...

If you’ve stayed with me through this epic tale, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that no such leaflet was enclosed. So my next task is to ring them yet again. I will be letting Restless Consumer readers know how I get on.