John told us they regularly booked winter breaks in advance to Spain, and they’d signed up for a three-week villa break at Torremolinos in early March 2020.
But within days they found themselves stranded at the Spanish resort when unexpectedly the Spanish government shutdown the country to foreign visitors and holidaymakers were advised to immediately return home.
John, 81 said: ‘Two days before going on the 6th of March I spoke to Staysure to ask if they had any news on travel to Spain. I was told that if the Foreign Office said it was it was okay then you can go, which was what we were hoping for.’
Despite insurers insisting they aim never to turn a drama into a crisis, the couple soon discovered it wasn’t to be the relaxing break they’d planned and their holiday nightmare had only just begun.
‘We’d been there for just six days,’ John explained, ‘then literally overnight the Spanish authorities put a block on everything and we had to stay in total lockdown.
‘It was an offence for people over 75, to be on the street which we both are. We didn’t know this as it happened on a Sunday night.
‘We only found out on Sunday morning when we went for a stroll along the prom and spoke to our neighbour. The only people about were workmen sealing the waste bins and spraying the lampposts and handrails.
‘Our mobile phones refused to work in Spain and all the public phone boxes were sealed so we had no alternative but to book registered taxis to a chaotic overcrowded Malaga airport packed with people trying to arrange flights home.
‘None were available unless you were willing to pay a Norwegian airline £1,000 or more for a one-way ticket.’
But to their immense relief, four anxious and worrying days later their outgoing airline easyJet came up trumps when they arranged to book them on a repatriation flight to London Stanstead.
Although they were confident they had the strength of Staysure’s peace of mind cancellation insurance around them, further chaos ensued when they tried to submit a claim for the loss of 12 days from their £1,400 holiday break.
John, a retired plumber, soon discovered the insurance claim process wasn’t destined to be a walk in the park.
Given the coronavirus constraints, he waited patiently for a number of weeks then set about registering the claim with Staysure which could only be done online by an automated procedure as all their offices were shut.
Crucially John’s IT went on the blink after he discovered his email account had been hacked, so he was compelled to set about deleting accounts and changing the password.
He tried to speak to someone at Staysure for guidance about alternatives to submitting the £806 claim online but was unable to get a reply.
Locked out of the emergency claims procedure, they decided to send it by registered post to the company’s Northampton head office and waited on receipt of an acknowledgment.
But a further two months down the line mounting frustration ensued when to add insult to injury they still hadn’t had any response to their claim.
Frustration and stress turned to anger when three further follow up recorded delivery letters also resulted in deafening silence.
However, they were greatly relieved light was finally appearing at the end of the tunnel when in mid November they took a surprise call from Staysure to confirm their claim had been received.
It had apparently been forwarded to the wrong place ending up with the underwriters, but they were told they’d receive a progress call about it a few days later.
Anger turned to despair when the promised few days extended into another four months of resounding silence.
Not knowing quite where to turn and stressed out at the end of their tether, they called in Streetwise for help and advice as they weren’t prepared to let the matter drop.
We got onto Staysure and expressed concern at the lack of communication from the nation’s foremost holiday insurer about the couple’s legitimate claim.
The assumption that everyone had access to computer technology to register a claim was clearly mistaken.
Despite the obvious constraints caused by the pandemic, it was undeniable that no one had taken ownership of the Porters’ complaint and it had dragged on for over a year in an inexcusable saga of robotic driven silence.
In the circumstances, all John Porter wanted to do is have the opportunity to talk to a human and be treated like a valued customer.
To their credit, the company acted with commendable speed when we alerted them to the situation and immediately told us they were investigating. They’d contacted the couple to assure them of a resolution.
A spokesperson said: ‘Staysure are in the process of working with the underwriters to settle the Porter’s claim and will be waiving the excess as an apology for the inconvenience caused.’
Subsequently a senior company executive called John to reaffirm their apology and agreed to top up the refund to a £100 compensation settlement.
In a creditable frank up-front discussion, he was told that the company had gone through a challenging time. It was accepted that procedural and human errors had been revealed that were currently being investigated at the highest level to ensure lessons would be learned to sustain their reputation for providing trusted top quality travel insurance.
John confirmed they were astounded at the prompt response following our intervention, but sceptical why it took the involvement of the media to get the matter sorted.
He said: ‘We just couldn’t contact them. It was online or nothing. In the end it wasn’t about the money, which is always welcome, but it’s about being totally ignored.
‘I’m a very patient man, I don’t panic or anything like that, but I do expect something to happen when I’ve sound reason to complain.
‘My wife and I just can’t thank you enough. You achieved in 48 hours what had taken us more than a year of hassle and stress trying to get resolved. You clearly are the people’s champion.’