Complaining to an insurer can lead to satisfactory outcomes and be worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds to customers, a Which? survey has revealed.
At a time when millions of household budgets are being squeezed by the rising cost of living, good customer service has become even more important. However, for insurance customers who feel let down by their provider, taking the time to complain can lead to better outcomes.
The consumer champion’s survey of nearly 16,000 Which? members in October last year found that almost one in 10 had raised an insurance complaint during the past two years. The survey found that four in 10 (42%) members who made a complaint had it upheld, while one in three (34%) did not.
The reasons for complaints were varied, with causes including speed of service, disputes over policy wording and mis-selling and administrative errors, with one member being overcharged by £1,000 when payment for their travel insurance was mistakenly taken twice from their bank account.
Other customers believed that they had been unfairly rejected for claims, such as one member whose house was burgled of £7,000 worth of jewellery while they were in the paddock at the end of the garden. The underwriter initially concluded the owner was technically off their property and had not adequately secured it. However, following the complaint this decision was reviewed and the claim was accepted.
Recent data from the Financial Conduct Authority found that half of insurance complaints were resolved within three days. Less than one in 10 (6%) complaints took longer than eight weeks to resolve – the time firms have to deal with your complaint before you can escalate it to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
Which?’s survey found that those who do complain may receive compensation as a result. A quarter of Which? members who had complained to their insurer in the past two years received money, the majority of whom received £200 or less. In the first half of 2022, insurers paid out more than £83 million in redress – an average of £161 per upheld complaint.
The consumer champion is also urging customers not to assume the insurer’s decision is final – even if it has made some concessions following a complaint. Less than one in 10 (6%) members who complained took their claim to the FOS. Some 4 per cent went to the FOS because their complaint was rejected, but 2 per cent did so after the insurer resolved the complaint in their favour.
One potential root cause of customer confusion could be down to how some insurers are presenting their policies. A separate Which? survey of people who took out home, travel, car or pet insurance in the last two years found that only one in six (16%) home insurance customers, one in five (19%) travel insurance customers, one in five (20%) car insurance customers and a quarter (26%) of pet insurance customers said they understood their insurance policy “very well”.
The consumer champion is warning insurance customers to make sure they read the small print before signing up to policies so they are not caught out when it comes to making a claim.
For example, if your home is damaged by a storm it is not automatically covered by storm damage policies. Your insurer may refuse your claim if it does not find a high enough recorded wind speed during the period you claim for, so check your policy documents to see if your insurer includes a definition of what constitutes a storm.
If some valuable items are worth more than they were when you bought your home insurance, they may also not be covered. Most contents insurance policies will also have a ‘single item limit’, which tends to range from £1,000 to £2,500. If you think that limit is not enough, then you should contact your insurer.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:
“Consumers shouldn’t put up with bad customer service at any time, but when the rising cost of living is putting severe pressure on household budgets, it’s even more important.
“Our research shows that if your insurer is not up to scratch, it pays to complain. Taking the time to read the small print before renewing is also key, as you might find you’re not covered for certain eventualities.”
Notes to Editors
- Which? surveyed 15,930 members of its online panel between 11th and 19th October 2022
- Which? surveyed 1,051 members of its online panel between 20th and 25th October 2022 and asked how well they understood their travel insurance policies
Which? tips on how to complain well
- Speak to the right department
Most insurers will have dedicated complaints staff with a specific point of contact, which you should be able to find on the company’s website.
- Complain in writing
You can complain by phone – but a written complaint (especially with ‘complaint’ in the title) is most likely to be understood as a matter you’d like the company to deal with formally. Doing so by email has the further advantage of leaving you with clear records of the correspondence.
- Be detailed
Bearing in mind that the recipient will probably be unfamiliar with your case, give a detailed description of what’s happened to date and explain how you would like the complaint to be resolved.
- Allow eight weeks
The company has eight weeks to respond, but you’ll hopefully hear back sooner. If, by eight weeks, you remain unsatisfied with the outcome, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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