Blog: How insurance risks exclude victims of domestic abuse

physical-abuse

  • Household content claims may be rejected when damage is caused by an abusive partner
  • The UK should consider composite insurance policies that better protect victims of domestic abuse
  • Processes need to be changed so policies can’t be bought or cancelled without the policyholder’s consent

Victims of economic abuse often struggle to access insurance, writes Alice Merry, financial inclusion consultant for Surviving Economic Abuse, explaining what the industry can do about it. 

Earlier this year, Clare Throssell’s horrific story made the news. Her abusive husband, Darren Sykes, from whom she had recently separated, trapped their two sons in the attic of the family home and burnt the house down, murdering the two boys. Before the murder, Sykes did not renew the house insurance and wrote to the bank to say that he was no longer responsible for the house insurance. In addition to this murder, Sykes made sure that Clare would also suffer economically. Clare was left with a destroyed, uninsured house and a mortgage to pay.

Victims and survivors of abuse are some of the insurance industry’s most vulnerable customers. And yet, they often struggle to access insurance and benefit from its protection.

Surviving Economic Abuse, a charity dedicated to raising awareness about this and transforming responses, has looked into the ways in which the insurance sector may be inadvertently excluding victims and survivors of economic abuse. Its initial research suggests that this may be happening in several ways.

Companies may refuse to insure victims or quote higher premiums because of past claims due to the actions of an abusive partner or ex-partner. And claims may be rejected when damage is caused by an abusive partner.

In the UK, co-insureds are considered to have a joint interest in property and one insured cannot claim for criminal damage caused by the other. Since destruction of property and resources, such as a car or home, is a common tactic of economic abuse, this has important consequences for victims.

In other countries, such as New Zealand, such policies are considered composite insurance policies, in which each insured person is considered to have a separate interest in the insured property and separate rights under the policy. This model better protects victims of abuse and could be considered in the UK.

In addition, insurance investigators do not always treat victims appropriately. They may interview victims in intimidating ways and use incorrect and outdated assumptions about domestic abuse. Privacy is crucial for victims of domestic abuse, and safety concerns may arise around insurance claims processes. Greater understanding of abuse within insurance companies is important to ensure that victims are treated fairly and sensitively by staff.

Frequently, victims report that insurance policies have been taken out in their name or cancelled by abusive partners without their consent. The stories shared by a group of survivors that advises the charity, the Experts by Experience group, suggest that it may be particularly easy for policies to be taken out in a victim’s name through online purchases.

One survivor explained how her husband had applied for car insurance online. He simply took out the policy in her name and put himself as the named driver, without informing her. He went on to stop paying the premium and she received a notification from the insurance company that she owed them the hefty sum of £700. Better protection and processes to remedy such situations are urgently needed.

Information and research on economic abuse in the UK is virtually non-existent. In the US and Australia, in-depth research has found significant exclusion and discrimination against victims and survivors of abuse.

It is vital that the UK insurance industry and organisations that support victims work together to ensure that insurance works for victims of abuse. Surviving Economic Abuse is currently looking for partners to support an in-depth research and consultation process to do just that. Companies can partner to carry out the research or help fund this work.

Help us make sure the insurance industry works for the most vulnerable, including victims and survivors of abuse, by getting in touch: [email protected]  

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