Fareham dog owner's battle with insurer Petplan over £734 bill to help fix pooch's yellow teeth

When Morris Mansbridge’s beloved dog Bonnie needed a dental hygiene check up, he was relieved his pet insurance would at least cover the vet bill.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 9:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 11:10 am
Morris Mansbridge was faced with a vets bill for dental work for his dog, Bonnie, which his pet insurers wouldn't pay. Pictured in Portchester. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (260719-91)

But despite paying for an annual Petplan policy he was stunned when his claim to recover the £734 bill was turned down flat by the insurance company.

Dog lover Morris, 84, explained that Bonnie is his sixth dog. He adopted and bought her from the Second Chance animal rescue charity, Southampton, in 2018.

Before he could welcome Bonnie into her new Fareham home, he had to wait a few days while the charity’s vet sorted out a dental problem.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In good health for her age

Just to be sure there were no further health issues, Morris took his new found nine-year-old furry friend to his local trusted veterinary surgery, who gave the dog an initial check-up and was satisfied she was in good health for her age.

While at the surgery he routinely took out their recommended annual peace of mind Petplan insurance, and it wasn’t long before the Labrador cross became his closest companion after his wife sadly died fighting a losing battle with cancer.

Morris said the problems with the insurance company only came to light when he took his dog to the vet seven months later for a dental clean and polish.

‘Bonnie’s teeth were looking yellow’

‘My daughter Caroline noticed that Bonnie’s teeth were looking rather yellow, so last April, I took her along to the vet,’ he said.

‘It then transpired that during the pre-treatment inspection they found an infected tooth which they extracted, but I’d no advance knowledge of it, and I didn’t expect any serious problems because previous examinations hadn’t turned up anything.

‘The bill initially came to a staggering £1,000 but after I complained it seemed far too much the practice went into a huddle and eventually came up with the £734.

‘I put in the claim with Petplan but there was a delay of almost two months.

‘When I phoned up to say I hadn’t heard anything, they confirmed they’d received it. Apparently it had been sent to the board for a decision but they hadn’t come up with one.

Why hasn’t my £734 claim been paid?

‘I then wrote them a letter and asked why the claim hadn’t been paid, but again there was no answer.

‘Essentially I’d been chasing and chasing, but the information I’d received back was virtually nil.’

By the end of June, Morris, a regular reader of The News, finally decided to write to Streetwise for help and advice.

We looked over the policy booklet and the first thing that caught our eye, in the light of his experience, was a somewhat hollow promise to policyholders by the firm’s head of operations, Andy Pearce.

Mr Pearce, in the booklet, insisted the firm did everything possible to make the claims process quick and easy, so that claimants could count on them for a prompt and caring service from experienced staff when it was most needed.

But we discovered that Morris was one of many hundreds of people with a legitimate gripe about the pet insurance industry, many of whom finally ended up complaining to the Financial Ombudsman about poor service and unfair payouts by pet insurers.

Concerns about confidence in the pet insurance sector

The common theme to their complaints was how some insurers had given them the push by restricting the amount they paid out for treatments, and hiding behind onerous small print terms to reject claims.

Consumer action group Fairer Finance reported last year that trust in the industry is declining because insurers were failing to manage expectations properly.

In its accompanying evidence, ‘Misbuying Insurance,’ the watchdog concluded rising numbers of people were ending up with policies that fail to meet their needs.

Our research also found pet policies varied widely on what was covered. Some pets like pedigree cats and dogs were more susceptible to hereditary risks, and like older animals attracted much higher premiums and reduced cover.

Streetwise got on to Petplan and asked them to explain why their promise to Morris to promptly deal with his claim wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, and invited them to comment on why it had been rejected.

Owner paid £400 for insurance but got nothing

He’d paid almost £400 to insure his dog specifically against unexpected medical conditions but had got nothing to show for it.

They promptly got back to us to confirm the claim had been turned down because there was a pre-existing medical condition exclusion clause in the policy.

We agreed the exclusion was sufficiently prominent not to warrant an unfair consumer contract claim, but the Financial Ombudsman’s guidance made it clear that simply insisting there was a policy exclusion wasn’t a sufficient reason to arbitrarily refuse to stump up.

They were required to show justification the claim had been rejected solely on the grounds the policyholder knew full well at the time of taking out the insurance - or very soon after - their pet had a pre-medical condition.

Given the circumstances we asked them to reconsider but Petplan refused to budge.

Company pays '97 per cent of claims’

In a statement to Streetwise, a spokesperson said: ‘At Petplan, we are committed to keeping pets healthy through promoting responsible pet ownership and providing our customers with the highest level of service.

‘Petplan pays 97 per cent of all claims, however as with most pet insurers, our policies don’t cover an illness or injury which exists before a policy starts. We investigate all claims thoroughly and are confident in our vet’s decision that Mr Mansbridge’s claim related to an illness Bonnie suffered from before the policy started.

‘We advised the customer when the policy was purchased of the exclusion relating to dental treatment.’

Streetwise continues to assert Morris’s claim hadn’t been handled to the standard promised by the policy.

Goodwill payment offered for ‘falling short’

Setting aside disregarding the ombudsman’s guidelines for fairness when assessing pre-medical condition exclusions, no one from the company had contacted him about his claim until we intervened.

As a result, Morris received a call from Petplan accepting they’d fallen short of their normal high standard of service in dealing with his claim. As a gesture of goodwill they offered him a £50 ex gratia payment which he was minded to accept.

He said: ‘Thank you for your efforts on my behalf. As a result of your involvement I now understand about the drawbacks with Bonnie’s pet insurance. As she is an older pet, insuring her might not be the only option.

‘I’ve decided in future to take up your suggestion and put the money I would have paid on annual premiums aside to help cover any further unexpected vet bills.’

:: Send in your questions or requests for help to our consumer champion Richard Thomson at Streetwise – [email protected]

This week’s Streetwise Q&A

Q. My home has recently been redecorated using Valspar paint I bought in from B&Q. The work was completed a couple of months ago but ever since there’s been an offensive odour which is rather like cat pee. I’ve been onto Valspar but they have no explanation and have been most unhelpful.  What do you suggest please?

G.L. (email)

A. You’re not the first to complain about the nasty smell of some varieties of Valspar paint. It’s made by an American company and sold in this country exclusively by B&Q.

In 2017 B&Q compensated a significant number of customers after they complained Valspar paint emitted a very unpleasant odour of rotting flesh for many months after redecoration had been carried out.

They put it down to the removal of a preservative in the paint which I’ve now been told has since been reinstated.

Valspar have made you an offer of just £50 in paint vouchers and in my view it’s insufficient and dismissive.

If I were you I’d approach B&Q for compensation since your life has been severely disrupted by the smell.

At the very least they should be prepared to substantially cover any redecoration costs you are planning to implement to rid yourselves of the obnoxious ongoing room to room pong.

Q. I’m a 78-year-old silver surfer and have recently been told by my bank that in order to reduce fraudulent activity my payment instructions will soon have to be verified by a text message code. There’s only one problem. I don’t own a mobile and have no intention of getting one. Where do I stand please?

I.S. (email)

A. The banks are beefing up their online card payment systems by introducing a two step identity verification process to be introduced on or before 14th September.

Customers logging into online banking or making online purchases won’t be able to do so by simply inputting a password. In most cases they’ll be required to input a verification code automatically generated and sent to them by their bank or payment provider – by text.

As you don’t possess a mobile phone and have no intention of doing so, the alternative option is likely to be by a bank card reader.

The code will be set to the reader, and you’ll be able to verify purchases or log into your account by inputting the number and using the reader to forward it back to your bank.