ABOVE: Mel’s house. Insurance companies can decide not to sell insurance because of certain conditions, but the onus is on them to provide evidence to back their decision. PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTY
In the March quarterly issue of Panorama we featured several stories about self advocacy. As promised we now return to Mel, who, fresh from her battle with the ‘Government Body’ had to take on ‘The Insurance Company’ that refused to sell her mortgage protection insurance.
In 2017 I bought a house. It is not always easy to be in a position to buy a house. Especially in the expensive Sydney market. Especially if you are like me and live with mental health issues and a sensory disability that makes regular employment a challenge (see previous story in March 2019 Panorama). Still, I managed to do it!
Unless you pay cash, the process of buying a house means that you need to pay a 10% deposit, then demonstrate that you have the capacity to Keep making repayments at a certain rate during the life of the mortgage.
I decided that if I had a mortgage I would also need mortgage protection insurance to go with it. It turned out that buying the house was in some ways easier than buying the insurance!
This insurance was not compulsory, nor was it part of any covenant with the bank. So why exactly did I decide to purchase it?
I just like to be sensible with my money. I knew that I wouldn’t have been covered for my pre-existing mental health condition, but I also had been in a casual work role at the time and also I’d been on temporary contracts. My positions hadn’t been permanent ones, so if I were to get hit by a bus or to get some hideous illness I would be off work for a period of time and wouldn’t receive pay and the mortgage protection insurance would then kick in and cover my mortgage repayments.
The other thing it would cover is that if I died for some reason unconnected to my pre-existing condition, the mortgage protection insurance would pay the remainder of my mortgage and my family wouldn’t have the burden of recovering my repayments.
Despite taking this cautious and responsible decision, the Insurance Company (a large multinational one which advertises extensively) declined my application for mortgage protection insurance!
I was really angry. I felt furious. It was really unjust and unfair and I felt stuck for a long period of time like there was nothing I could do. I kept trying to contact them and discuss it with them but it was like a block, like I couldn’t get anywhere with them about it.
That’s why I decided I had to take issue with it and do something about it because it was so unfair.
There were times when I was a little bit tempted to give up the fight, to tell you the truth.
I know that when I first called the Financial Ombudsman Service about this, they were not completely encouraging. They just said that I could go ahead and lodge my dispute online. Once I explained my situation, they said that they couldn’t tell me whether or not it was a case of discrimination!
They said insurance companies are well known for their denial of people with certain mental health conditions, but to lodge the dispute anyway.
The onus is on insurance companies to provide evidence to back up their decision not to sell insurance policies to people with certain conditions and disabilities.
So I didn’t have a lot of hope but I wanted to push it because everyone in my treatment team was telling me it was wrong and I felt it was wrong and I wanted to fight it.
There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with both sides having to make statements and responses to the statements. It took six or seven months, but when it came through in my favour I was very pleased.
The Financial Ombudsman Service found that the Insurance Company had discriminated against me and ordered that it offer to sell me insurance. Not only that, the company had to pay me a sum of money in compensation!
I hope that my action makes it easier for other people to buy insurance. After all, regardless of our conditions or disabilities, it demonstrates that we take our financial risks and responsibilities seriously.
Mel spoke to Warren Heggarty
Everett, G. (2018, March ). More than being medicated: The Hierarchy of Need. Panorama, 28.
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