Thursday 14 December 2017

Smart Consumer: Get everything in writing to make sure you're covered

Tina Leonard

For seven weeks last summer, Lynn Ó Dubhagáin worked with the street children of Calcutta. Having just completed her post-graduate studies at Dublin's Froebal College, she raised the few thousand euro necessary to travel to India with the Hope Foundation.

After seven weeks' teaching in the slums, Lynn took the opportunity to spend a further two weeks travelling.

But just a week into the trip, every traveller's worst nightmare occurred. It happened on a 24-hour train journey, sitting on steel and leather benches. The back of the seat in front of Lynn collapsed and came down on her toe. She knew immediately it was broken.

A visit to hospital resulted in Lynn getting a heavy cast almost to her knee and no crutches. At best she could only hop around. Travelling was now out of the question. Lynn would need to curtail her trip and travel home early.

"But," says Lynn, "I had bought travel insurance for around €68 with AXA. If there was ever a reason for insurance, it was to cover something like this."

Or so she thought.

On her travel insurance policy documents, there were two contact numbers provided -- an 'emergency' number and a 'claim' number.

Not believing her situation to be an emergency, Lynn called the claim number. She says that the AXA staff member she spoke to approved her return home and emailed her the claim forms the same day.

Lynn and her travelling companion, who now needed to assist her, booked flight tickets at a cost of €617 each.

So why then was Lynn's claim denied?

In their letter to her, AXA say the decision was based "on policy wording and the terms which confirm that any changes/amendments of your original arrangements... must be agreed to by AXA directly".

But hadn't Lynn got that agreement when she called the insurance company?

In a response to Smart Consumer, AXA say that during that phone call "the customer was not 'approved of her return home'. She simply requested a claim form. Cover was not discussed or confirmed."

They add: "As this customer was neither in an emergency nor was the incident covered, this was not relevant."

Plus, it turns out Lynn should have contacted the emergency number. AXA continue: "Had she contacted the emergency number in the first instance, or discussed the nature of the issue with the claims handler... she would have been advised that she was not covered."

But why did the handler Lynn spoke to not advise her to call the other line? And from that initial phone conversation, what led Lynn to believe all was in order?

In 2011 there were 361 travel insurance complaints submitted to the office of the Financial Services Ombudsman -- 246 relating to a claim being refused. So it seems Lynn is not alone in wondering why the insurance didn't cover her.

"I bought it for peace of mind," recalls Lynn, "but I paid for insurance for nothing."

Lynn will buy travel insurance again -- but not from AXA -- "to cover the worst-case scenario" she says. "And I will make sure to get everything in writing and to get the names of everyone I speak to if I ever need to claim again". You should too.

Irish Independent

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