How to make a successful insurance claim

Friday, 01 July 2011 12:57

By Kate Saines

Making a claim on an insurance policy might seem like a pretty simple task. Surely you just pick up the phone, call the insurer, ask for the claims department… and Bob's your uncle?

Think again.

If you've ever been on the receiving end of a claim – whether successful or unsuccessful – you'll know the process is not always this straightforward. In fact, standing even the remotest chance of achieving a successful claim starts when you actually select and purchase your insurance policy.

Follow our step-by-step guide to making claims to ensure you boost your prospects of getting your insurer to pay up whilst also making the claim process as smooth as possible.

Step 1 – Make sure you are fully covered

Whether you are taking out car insurance, home insurance, travel insurance, pet insurance or any other kind of policy you'll only be able to make a claim if you are covered. This might sound obvious – but there is nothing more tempting than buying yourself only basic cover, or choosing the cheapest policy, in order to save a bob or two on premiums only to find out you've missed a vital piece of cover. And it will, of course, be the vital element you'll end up needing to claim for.

According to Which? travel research, ten per cent of people purchasing travel insurance in the last year, found to their disappointment they could not make a claim against the policy they had purchased.

As a result the Association of British Insurers (ABI) issued advice urging travellers to be aware that the cheapest policy was not always the best as they often provided the least cover.

It advises shopping around to ensure your policy covers your needs and also making sure you disclose all medical conditions so you can confirm your policy will cover any emergency treatment needed abroad.

This advice not only applies to travel insurance but to all types of protection. The more comprehensive your insurance, the better your chances of making a successful claim will be.

Step 2 – Know your policy

It's essential you know exactly what your insurance policy covers. So make sure, before you purchase insurance, you read the terms and conditions to clarify there's nothing important that has been missed out.

For example, a home contents insurance policy might only cover you for possession of items which are inside the home. This means if you wear a piece of jewellery outside your house and it's stolen or lost you'll not be able to make a claim.

Simply being aware of this omission will mean you'll avoid going through the arduous process of making a claim that will be unsuccessful. Alternatively, it could mean you can contact your insurer and increase or amend your cover to provide insurance for items outside the home, thus increasing your chances of making a successful claim.

It's not just missing cover which can cause problems. Insurers often demand certain procedures are carried out before you make a claim.

Stephen Ebbett, director of online insurer, said: "Unsuccessful claims can be avoided if you know, for example, that you have to report a missing mobile phone to the police within 24 hours to make a valid claim on your insurance."

You might not glean this kind of information from a table on a price comparison website, or a phone call to the insurer. But checking the small print should highlight these points. He added: "Too many people don't check the terms and conditions before buying." 

Step 3 – Don't push your luck

There are a number of situations where insurers will refuse cover. Mr Ebbett said no insurance policy will cover you for things like skiing under the influence of alcohol on a winter sports travel policy.

Likewise, theft of items from your car which are not inside a locked glovebox or boot will not be covered as part of any car insurance policy. There's no point trying to claim in these situations – so they are better off avoided.

Use the comparison tables to find the best deal on all types of insurance

Step 4 – Keep receipts, documents and proof of ownership documents safe

"Be prepared to show proof of purchase for lost or stolen items," said Stephen Ebbett.  "This not only proves to the insurer you were the owner, but also shows the value of the item that needs replacing."

This piece of advice was especially pertinent for anyone who has recently suffered cancellations because of ash clouds. Advice from comparison website earlier this year, when there were threats of more cancellations because of a new wave of volcanic ash, was to keep any receipts or suitable evidence of any expenses.

But this principle applies to many types of insurance, not just travel. It's also particularly important for home contents insurance policies. As well as keeping receipts and invoices, Mr Ebbett also advises taking pictures of valuable items as further evidence of your ownership.

Step 5 – When you make a claim, act quickly

Don't put it off. The sooner you call your insurer after suffering a loss, theft or damage or facing another eventuality covered by your insurance, the better your chances of claiming successfully.

The best example of this is if you fell ill on holiday. Mr Ebbett explained: "Your insurer may need to act on your behalf, to organise hospital care or repatriation."
Often your insurer will require a crime reference number when there has been a theft. Contact the police as soon as possible in this situation and then your insurer, as quickly as possible.

"The sooner you call them, the smoother the process for both the policy holder and the insurer" said Mr Ebbett. 

When you do call, make sure you have all important documents and information to hand. You'll need your policy number, which will be on your schedule, and you will also need to tell your insurer why you are making the claim and the date on which the claim arose.

Step 6 – Provide as much detail as possible

When making a claim, the more detail you can provide the better your chances of receiving a payout.

Stephen Ebbett said: "If your mobile phone has gone missing, but you aren't sure whether it has been lost or stolen, knowing you last saw it when you zipped it away in your handbag is a helpful detail."

He suggests, again, having photos of the missing item to help the claim along, as well as other documents such as a phone bill showing unauthorised calls.

Step 7 – Don't exaggerate

There have been reports of rising numbers of "exaggerated" claims to insurers over the last few years. The problem is policyholders exaggerating the number or type of items stolen, along with fraudulent claims, which serves only to hike everyone else's premiums. Meanwhile, anyone caught exaggerating could invalidate their whole claim.

James Barclay, home underwriting manager at AXA, said: "Generally people see it as a victimless crime but ultimately, honest policyholders foot the bill as insurers have to pass on the cost to their customers."

He added: "There are various measures we can use to check on claims and ultimately, people risk having the whole claim turned down if they submit fraudulent details."
Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to insurance – and the claims process is no exception.

Use the comparison tables to find the best deal on all types of insurance

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