Portsmouth pensioner's anger as car is written off - but More Than keep taking insurance payments

Eighty-seven-year-old John Cullen was understandably distressed and confused when his car was written off by insurer More Than after it was damaged beyond repair in a hit-and-run incident while parked outside his Cosham home.

Thursday, 30th May 2019, 11:47 am
Updated Thursday, 30th May 2019, 12:47 pm
Ashley Cullen. Picture: Malcolm Wells (190529-0899)

He and his wife Joan relied on the car for trips to the local shops, so the couple’s loss of their transport independence was an unwelcome stressful blow they could well do without.

Consequently, John and his son Ashley became engaged in an increasing bitter battle of words with the insurer for more than a year, to explain why they continued to insist on £130 monthly premium payments for a car they’d consigned to the scrap heap.

John’s frustrating experience with the More Than customer service team and departments began last April shortly after he’d renewed his car insurance.

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Ashley Cullen. Picture: Malcolm Wells (190529-0899)

They confirmed the car was a total write-off for insurance purposes, and made him an offer based on their insurance valuation of the car which he accepted.

But he wasn’t the first person to experience the elusive sting in the tail of motor insurance when their car is written off. More Than didn’t adequately warn him the policy was an annual contract which meant the full premium was still payable despite it being cancelled early.

Insurers argue they have complied with their part by settling the claim and unless the vehicle is replaced will not allow any premium refund.

To make matters worse, John is significantly deaf. Not being fully aware of the claims process he was unable to adequately discuss and absorb the finer points of the ‘small print’ terms and conditions of his policy with call centre staff over the phone.

Like many people of his generation, he has no access to broadband internet technology or any desire to become a silver surfer. A smartphone is out of the question because of his hearing impairment.

He reasonably took the view that since he no longer owned a car, no further premium was payable.

Matters were made more confusing after he’d received a succession of letters from the insurer he didn’t fully understand, so he called on his son Ashley for help and support.

But it wasn’t long before Ashley, 61, realised he was on a hiding to nothing with More Than. They adamantly refused to discuss the matter with him because his dad’s insurance records were confidential under current data protection law.

As he didn’t have a power of attorney arrangement with his parents in place to allow him to act on their behalf, he was given the cold shoulder treatment.

Ashley said:  ‘Every time I called them in the first six months or so for an explanation, I was constantly asked to justify who I was. When I repeatedly asked them to keep me in the loop they failed to do so.

‘I had to get dad to give me a written agreement to enable me to help resolve issues with his policy. They were very difficult to negotiate with and their customer service was terrible.’

Ashley was concerned their legitimate request for an explanation about having to pay premiums until the end of March this year for a written-off car didn’t made logical sense, and he understood why his dad was so confused when he couldn’t get an answer.

He added: ‘I can’t say I know what dad was advised when he signed up with them, but he didn’t have a clue he was held to an annual contract.

‘My feeling when I was challenging More Than’s agents, his car was written off so how could it continue to be a valid contract? I put it on a par with life insurance contracts where you don’t continue to make payments after the insured person has died.

‘A guy came back to me to say we’re in the business to make money and that really got my goat.’

After months of wrangling and being passed from the claims to the premiums departments Ashley decided it was high time to contact Streetwise to find out where his dad stood.

Like Ashley we were astounded that he had been battling away for 14 months trying to obtain a clear explanation from one of the nation’s top insurers why his dad John was taking a hit in the bank balance for a car that wasn’t on risk.

We were also concerned about the firm’s internal communications breakdown, where departments failed to communicate with each other about compliance with the General Data Protection Regulations.

If one department wasn’t aware of what another was doing, the confusion could lead to vulnerable elderly customers with medical impairments being wrongly deprived of family help and support.

Insurance policies didn’t make for easy reading. Riddled with legal jargon and exclusions, even the clued-up rarely bother to study them in detail before signing up.

We asked the parent company Royal and Sun Alliance (RSA) to look into the complaint and let us have their comments.

RSA admitted there had been a lapse in company service standards. Ashley shouldn’t have been stonewalled once his dad had given written permission to access his records.

When it became clear John wasn’t going to replace his car he should have been told the outstanding premium would be deducted as a lump sum.

A spokesperson said: ‘Our vehicles play an important role in our lives and it can be a distressing experience if they are damaged.

‘We always strive to support our customers in their time of need, but in this case our service levels dropped below the high standards we seek to uphold. ‘

‘We have apologised to Mr Cullen and refunded the additional interest paid on his premium, which was charged in error. We have also offered Mr Cullen an additional £100 as compensation for the inconvenience caused.’

Streetwise considered it good that insurance giant RSA finally took the complaint seriously, but it really shouldn’t have been as a result of our intervention.

‘You made more impact and progress in two weeks than I managed in almost a year,’ Ashley said.

‘The lesson I’ve learned is the way we’re all going to go with data protection and elderly parents who aren’t tech savvy, is to ensure they’re signed up to a power of attorney otherwise people like me are unable to help them and we’re stuffed.

‘I take The News daily and I’m an avid reader of the Streetwise column. I can’t thank you enough for your help. Keep up the good work.’