By Tanisha Hutson

How are policies being affected?

On 11th March 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) held a media briefing where they officially characterised the COVID-19 Virus as a World-Wide Pandemic. An official statement advising British people against all non-essential international travel for 30 days was released on 17th March 2020 by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Shortly thereafter, the time period of 30 days was extended indefinitely due to the unprecedented circumstances the World currently finds itself in.

The advice took effect immediately; but with many Britons stranded abroad and others with planned trips ahead and insurance policies already purchased how was travel insurance affected?

Insurers not accepting new policies

Many travel insurance companies made the difficult decision to halt the sale of new policies to new customers, however, with varying reasons. Many companies have reported a need to focus on their existing customers and current policies, whilst others promised the pause on the sale of new policies will be lifted eventually, in line with the FCO’s travel advice. Other insurers have ceased all online business or business altogether with web-pages closing down and companies themselves being unreachable to both new and existing customers. Some providers continue to support their existing customers but updated their policies; they would no longer cover travel to an area advised against by the FCO.

The Fairer Finance ratings reflect these decisions; we have decided to temporarily remove all travel insurance product ratings where companies are not open to new business. Similarly, in our customer experience ratings, brands not offering new policies appear greyed-out in our ratings table. This decision was made as to avoid confusion regarding available products and business alongside supporting the decisions of travel insurance companies.

Insurers accepting new policies with restrictions

Despite this, plenty of other companies are still offering new policies (please see our product and customer experience rating tables). However, there is a very clear pattern regarding new travel policies and restrictions surrounding COVID-19. Many insurers are leaning on government advice to justify these restrictions, stating that travel insurance is designed to protect against unforeseen circumstances and, as COVID-19 is a known global pandemic according to the WHO, it cannot be considered unforeseen. Since 17th March, many insurers have adjusted their policies to exclude all claims relating to any pandemic or epidemic, including claims relating to the fear or threat of COVID-19. This means that cancellations or abandonments of trips on pre-paid policies will not be covered alongside any financial losses.

So where does this leave travellers across the country?

Whilst much focus has surrounded the travel insurance companies themselves and how the market has been affected, the bigger question remains; what about us?

Existing policy holders

For those who have already purchased travel insurance the outcome will be dependent on your date of purchase:

  • Policies purchased before 17th March 2020 may cover you for cancellation, curtailment or rearrangement. However, this is dependent on the policy and insurer and even so many claims will not cover your costs fully

  • Policies purchased after 17th March 2020 will not cover you for any cancellations or amendments due to COVID-19. Most insurers encourage their customers to remain up to date with government travel advice before planning holidays

New policies

As the FCO has advised against all non-essential travel indefinitely the general recommendation to those wanting to plan trips ahead is to wait. Although many companies are still accepting new customers for future trips there are questions surrounding the technicalities of new policies. More specifically, as government bodies have advised against travel, those still going ahead and travelling against advice by the FCO forfeit being covered by their insurers as these policies would be rendered invalid and claimants would be unable to make a claim. Additionally, those who still plan to travel face the possibility of being unable to return home; an extreme concern that, for some Britons, is still an unfortunate reality.

Making a claim

For those who have already purchased travel insurance and need to make a claim there are a few steps you need to follow before you get in contact with your insurer. These initial steps are important as insurers will only pay out for costs that couldn’t be refunded by providers. Consequently, they will only begin to progress your claim once you have shown evidence of your attempt to get refunds. Additionally, many insurers also insist on you completing an online COVID-19 form. These can be found on your insurer’s website and available to download. To ensure you have covered all avenues you can take the following steps:

1. Attempt to contact your airline for a refund

As all air-lines are receiving a high volume of calls it may be worth checking if your provider allows you to modify or cancel your flights via their website. Failing this, many provider’s have increased their customer service via social media platforms in order to alleviate the amount of incoming calls – using platforms like Twitter for simple requests may be effective

2. Contact your accommodation provider

Similarly, attempt other forms of contact such as social media platforms. Refunds in this circumstance are heavily dependent on the accommodation provider

3. If you booked through a credit card, attempt a refund through your credit card company

If you are struggling to get a refund from any of your providers you may be able to claim your money back from your credit card company. If you paid via debit this will likely be more difficult, however, some banking companies may be able to reverse the transaction depending on the date of purchase. Again, this is dependent on your providers.

4. Gather any further evidence you may need to make a claim

Keep all of your travel documents to hand including both physical and digital documents. Ensure you have a copy of your policy document and T&C’s document. Gather evidence of all the costs you want to claim for including any tours, excursions, rentals and transfers.