Association of British Insurers (ABI) set of industry standards to ‘help drive consistency and best practice’
In October last year, we revealed that the ABI was developing a framework of measurable insurer standards to improve the way the industry treats those impacted by mental health issues.
Unveiled as part of a webinar today, the ABI mental health standards have been created in consultation with mental health experts, including Mental Health UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to help provide better support for customers with mental health conditions when applying for health, travel or protection insurance.
Covering accessibility, the application process, communication and transparency, they include:
- Improving accessibility by providing support to customers who may need help completing the application form and offering two or more choices of how a customer can communicate with their insurer.
- Supporting customers throughout their application by explaining the process and why questions are being asked.
- Standardising communication with customers by removing technical language, making any exclusions clear and signposting consumers to relevant support services.
- Increasing transparency around decision making by explaining to customers, upon request, what evidence was used to inform the insurer's decision on cover and a commitment from insurers to regularly review their underwriting approach for mental health conditions.
The ABI said that the standards have been developed to help customers overcome the barriers they often face when trying to access insurance, an experience which can be difficult and distressing for many people with mental health conditions. Recent research from Mental Health UK showed that 86% of people affected by mental illness did not know where to go for independent advice when applying for insurance.
To complement the standards, an insurance and mental health guide, in partnership with Mental Health UK, has been launched to provide support and guidance for customers with mental health conditions.
Yvonne Braun, director of policy for long-term savings and protection at the ABI said: "Nobody should feel excluded from financial services. Customers across the services sector face too many barriers and insurance is no different. People can find it difficult to navigate the increasingly digitised economy, particularly in financial services. For people with mental health conditions, this can be particularly distressing. Implementing the mental health standards will help ensure that customers get the right help and support they need when choosing to buy insurance, and is one step to help break down these barriers."
Sarah Murphy, associate director for advice, information and training at Mental Health UK said: "Mental illness shouldn't be a barrier that prevents anyone getting the insurance they need. Our research found that applying for insurance has often been a difficult and upsetting process to navigate for people who've experienced mental health problems, with over two thirds of people feeling that they've experienced discrimination.
"Thankfully, change is on the horizon and we're delighted to have supported the ABI to produce these new industry standards and to create the Mental Health & Insurance guide. Together we can help make the industry more accessible and ensure people living with mental illness have a positive and fair experience when seeking the security that insurance provides."
The ABI standards were also endorsed by Dr Jed Boardman, social lead at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, interim chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Caroline Waters, and John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who said: "I am pleased to see the industry working proactively to make it easier for vulnerable consumers to access insurance products and I encourage insurers to continue to demonstrate their vital role when things go wrong."
In light of the announcement today, Royal London has already confirmed it will implement the ABI mental health standards. Jennifer Gilchrist, protection specialist at Royal London, said: "Mental health is one of the most commonly disclosed conditions we see on protection applications. As a provider, our ambition is to offer cover to as many customers as possible, so we are fully supportive of the standards and will be implementing the changes. We already offer life cover to individuals with severe mental health conditions to help improve access to insurance and hope to see others in the industry doing the same."
LV=, which also welcomed the move, said that collaborating on the ABI initiative had allowed it to review its own approach to customers with a history of mental health conditions.
Debbie Kennedy, director of protection at LV=, said: "The ABI's mental health standards initiative is welcome and will challenge and support us in make it easier for customers with existing mental health conditions to apply for and benefit from insurance. At LV=, this starts with how we ask the right questions, taking a flexible approach to ensure applicants get the cover they need and providing expert services and support when they need them most.
"Collaborating on the initiative helped LV= re-evaluate its approach to mental health and contributed to us introducing an industry first. LV= is still the only provider to include automatic reviewable exclusions for protection customers, allowing those with pre-existing conditions, including mental health, the ability to remove them after a certain time period. Mental illness is currently the most common condition to have an automatic reviewable exclusion and can be removed after up to three years of no further issues."
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