/ Money

Is your insurance small print clear as mud?

I’ve been investigating how clear insurance policy documents really are. It may sound dull, but those 60 pages of small print could hold a clause that invalidates your claim. Have you ever been tripped up by small print?

I’ve spent a lot of time recently looking through insurance policy documents – and I’m not even suffering from a chronic case of insomnia! I’ve been trying to understand how clear car, home and travel insurance policy documents are, and whether there are any surprises and stipulations in the small print.

The NeverEnding policy documents

The policy documents I’ve been looking at often reach 50 or 60 pages long. Flick through four or five of these and it’s the equivalent of reading a short novel. Fair enough, insurers will have regulatory obligations, but the examples I’ve looked at can seem impenetrable, while the important stuff isn’t always obvious.

We’re always told we must read the policy documents to be clear about the cover we’re buying, but couldn’t insurers make them a little more succinct? After all, how many of us can be reasonably expected to read every word of the document?

Insurers feel they have to cover every eventuality; you never know when you’re going to be a victim of radioactive contamination, a sonic bang or caught up in a pesky war – but some of the small print in policy documents does seem a little strange.

For example, the Direct Line car insurance policy makes a point of warning against using your car on the Nurburgring Nordschleife race track, in case you were ever tempted. And other policies won’t cover damage to your car ‘in any area where aircraft are normally found to be landing, taking off, moving or parked’. Does this include the long-stay car park at Gatwick?

It’s all in the small print…

For many insurance policies, there are lists of exclusions which seem designed to create a grey area, allowing insurance companies to question a claim. For example, some insurers are pretty strict on your alcohol limit in order for emergency medical claims on your travel insurance to be valid.

Have you read through policy wording for your car, home or travel insurance and found it difficult to digest? Or have you ever had an insurance claim turned down thanks to an unexpected term or exclusion in your policy you didn’t know about?


A senior litigatiion solicitor has examined documentation,
insists there IS a subsisting contract…. litigation papers to be served.

“To claim for damages for breach of
contract, for breach of an express
term providing for funding of legal
expenses on occasion of an insured
event, with respect to issue of third-party
proceedings in accordance with the Terms
and Conditions set out in the Contract of
Insurance (Home Insurance Policy) imposed,
entered into or otherwise agreed between
both the contracting parties.”

It would be a great help if the insurance industry would get together and agree standard cover for common insurances (e.g. motor insurance) and individual companies could point out where their policies offered less or more benefits compared with the standard cover.

Even if the insurance industry could not get their act together, an enterprising online broker could offer this service.

I know of one broker who does this, but unfortunately only for huge corporate clients.
There is too much work involved to make it worthwhile for the common people.

Gerard Phelan says:
12 October 2012

When on holiday with my mother, she was unexpectedly hospitalised and I found that my travel insurance did not provide me with claimable cover. Because she could not be moved, I continued to stay at my destination, albeit spending much of my time in hospital rather than sightseeing. Thus I could not easily claim under the section for curtailment, nor did there seem to be provision for covering the cost of the extra week I needed to stay until she could be repatriated by air ambulance.

I did not even attempt a claim, because I found it possible to claim under her travel insurance as a family member providing her with care.

This area does seem to be gap in travel insurance conditions.

Dave Johnson says:
17 March 2013

My renewal notice arrived from Saga,20 pages!
If you have time and patience a task indeed ,also noted they take it for granted you want to re insure with them, so unless you cancel in time ,they take the money anyhow!

Our house was insured by Liverpool Victoria for some years. About a year ago I noticed that we were only insured if all doors and windows were locked when we left the house. I checked with LV and they confirmed that leaving the house with a single window mistakenly unlocked would invalidate the insurance. (I commented to them that this was like a car insurance that only covered you for accidents for which you were not to blame.) I have moved to an admitedly more expensive policy with John Lewis. (A Which best buy.) John Lewis stated that they have a similar “all doors and windows must be locked” clause but it is only imposed if the house is in a risky area and our house is in a very low risk area.