Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
R.C. writes: My wife and I have had insurance from Hiscox for many years, and for the year to July 2020 our annual travel policy cost £600. It has quoted £888 for another year, a whopping rise of nearly 50 per cent – and with pandemic cover excluded. I declined, to which Hiscox responded that it would not commit to covering us in the future. I then asked for a refund for the lockdown months but it refused point blank.
A rise of nearly 50 per cent in premiums is huge, and I can understand why you turned it down. But the bottom line is that Hiscox is not obliged to insure you in the future, any more than you are obliged to accept the new premium.
Take off: In lockdown illness and lost luggage were no longer covered
If Hiscox no longer wants your business, perhaps because you and your wife are elderly, then no matter how loyal you have been, it can turn its back on you and walk away.
But the question of refunds for what turned out to be a near-useless policy is a different matter. When Hiscox calculated its premiums a year or so ago, they were based on its own estimates of how many customers would travel, and how many would then make claims. Both those numbers have dropped like a stone.
I asked Hiscox how it justified keeping all of your premiums. If you had travelled against Government advice, Hiscox would have refused to meet any claim. So wasn’t Hiscox pocketing premiums without any risk of paying out?
At first, Hiscox simply sidestepped the question. It told me: ‘Any trips booked would have been covered throughout the term of the policy.’
It added: ‘We would of course have provided a refund, had Mr C contacted us before his policy had ended to tell us he no longer needed the cover.’ As a ‘gesture of goodwill’, though, Hiscox said it would offer you £100 ‘for any confusion caused’.
But this did not answer the central question, so I pressed Hiscox again. Would it have met claims from people who had travelled during lockdown against Government advice?
This time the answer was a little clearer. Policyholders would have been covered for any cancellation losses, but if they had actually travelled, then Hiscox would not have covered them for anything else, such as loss of baggage, illness or accident abroad.
When travel restrictions began, Hiscox told me, ‘customers had the option to cancel their policy and receive a refund’. I do wonder how many Hiscox policy-holders were aware of this. Policy documents do say that annual policies can be cancelled at any time.
So Hiscox takes the view that it was up to all its policyholders to decide whether to claim a refund as soon as the Government ruled against travel. Hiscox would not draw this to their attention.
It told me: ‘A broker would always be able to give advice on whether this would be right for an individual customer based on their circumstances.’
The outcome for you is that, in effect, Hiscox is telling you that you should have obtained professional advice from an insurance broker as soon as lockdown began, then cancelled your policy to obtain a refund, rather than relying on Hiscox to make a refund because its risk of paying out had fallen dramatically.
Every Hiscox annual travel policyholder should take this to heart and call their broker tomorrow morning if they believe they might be in a similar position.
Hiscox added that its policy ‘provided cover for essential travel’, which was still permitted. Any policyholder who believes their travel is essential – for example, to assist a sick relative abroad – should check with Hiscox now on whether it will meet any claim, rather than find out too late that it takes a different view of what counts as essential.
Relax! Your nest egg is not stolen
G.B. writes: I bought shares in The Bankers Investment Trust many years ago, for £25,016. In 2018, I received a letter saying I needed to transfer them into a ‘nominee holding’, so I completed the transfer form and returned it. Recently, I realised to my horror I had received no paperwork or dividends since the transfer. I found they had gone to a company called FIL Nominee (Shareholdings) Ltd, so I wrote but heard nothing.
You told me you thought you had been cheated out of your shares, which were a nest egg for your family.
I am happy to say you are wrong. FIL is part of the huge Fidelity International investment group, which you have dealt with before and it assures me that your shares are safe.
If you check your bank statements, you will see that dividends have been paid straight into your account. You received no paperwork because when you originally dealt with Fidelity, you asked for online messages only. Fidelity has now called you and helped you track your investments online.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
We’re watching you!
A woman who ran scam publishing firms that raked in more than £1million from victims who believed they were supporting good causes has been banned from acting as a company director.
Ashley Dawn Thorley, 39, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, was a boss of the Teenage Information Bureau, which persuaded businesses to sponsor the production of booklets about sexually transmitted infections. It gave the impression of being a charity but was actually a commercial firm that banked over £400,000 from donors.
The firm was asking for donations to supply schools with booklets warning teenagers against taking drugs
I warned against it in 2013, after a Mail on Sunday reader was asked to pay £199 for 31 small booklets to be distributed to schools. After an investigation by the Insolvency Service, the High Court ordered the company into liquidation.
Thorley went on to run Data Northern Ltd. It cold-called small businesses, falsely implying that it was a charity connected to the police. I reported in 2017 that Thorley’s company was asking for donations of £179 a time to supply schools with booklets warning teenagers against taking drugs, pictured right. Once a donation was made, the firm was told it had entered a contract to carry on paying, with the threat of bailiffs if it refused.
The booklets were written by Thorley, and investigators from the Insolvency Service found that most of the schools that were supposed to receive them actually received nothing, while those that did receive the booklets felt they were so poor that they threw them away.
In February last year, the High Court in Manchester ordered Data Northern to close down. By then, the company’s bank account showed it had received £949,282 from donors, with Thorley pocketing £152,860. She is now banned from setting up or controlling any limited company until September 2029.