Coronavirus: travel insurance policies not paying out in a crisis

Insurers and warranty providers appear to be rewriting their terms and conditions to avoid payouts during the coronavirus pandemic. RP of London accepted an invitation from her online travel agent to buy cancellation protection when she booked a hotel room last December. The cover, provided by RoomerFlex, promises an 80% refund for cancellations “for any reason, no questions asked” which was a relief when Covid-19 put paid to RP’s trip next month.

The part about no questions is true. RoomerFlex has decided to void all claims, regardless of the cause, due to “unprecedented” circumstances. Pandemics are, it seems, a reason the small print forgot to mention. Since RoomerFlex works in partnership with a number of travel booking platforms, a large number of customers are finding that the only refund they will get is their £8 premium – which RoomerFlex says will take up to 150 days to process.

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates insurance in the UK, said it was powerless because RoomerFlex is a US firm which sells on cancelled rooms to fund its guarantee and so is offering a service rather than insurance. Roomer was contacted for comment.

Landlords who bought the premier rent guarantee service offered by lettings agent Leaders have been similarly abandoned. The service promises to cover rental payments if tenants fall into arrears. AN lives in the Philippines on income from a property let in Kent. He pays £36.86 a month for the guarantee and assumed it would protect him if his tenants fell behind with rent due to the pandemic. However, like RoomerFlex, Leaders has written to landlords informing them that the guarantee guarantees nothing when a pandemic is concerned, even though there’s no mention of pandemics in the list of exclusions. Unlike RoomerFlex, it’s not offering to refund the considerable cost of the cover to those who now find themselves unprotected. Leaders was contacted for comment.

LJ and his wife of Haywards Heath bought a £95 standard multi-trip travel insurance policy from Zurich for a May trip to Thailand. “The summary shows that we are not covered for travel [if it is] against the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO],” he writes. “It seems likely this will apply to us, but the website now shows that holders of a Standard policy will not be covered. It puts us in a catch-22 situation.”

Zurich told the Observer that it was not possible to list all potential exclusions, so customers are instead informed of specific circumstances where cancellation is covered. Given how much insurers rely on small print to wriggle out of claims, this is not good enough. In answer to which, Zurich points me to its small print. On page 68 of the information document issued to LJ, cover is mentioned for changed FCO advice, but that only applies to those with the pricier extra policy. This rather undermines Zurich’s claim that it can’t include all possible exclusions. The Financial Ombudsman Service can decide whether this is unfair.

The Guardian

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