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The following article is an excerpt from Insurance Times.
Why are insurers barring ex-cons?
Helen Groom reveals the problems of finding specialist insurance for ex-offenders.
In common with many ex-offenders Graham Willis (not his real name) returned to live with his family following his release from prison.
Three months after his release, the Willis family made a claim on their contents insurance after their washing machine flooded their kitchen. Much to their surprise, the family were contacted by their insurance company who told them that it would not pay the claim. Their policy was also to be cancelled and the premium returned.
When asked why the company was taking this action, the Willis's were told that they had breached the terms of their policy by not informing the insurer that there was now an ex-offender living in the house, a policy clause that the family had been unaware of.
Willis's story is not an unusual one. He is one of a growing number of people who are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to find insurance cover because of their criminal record.
But brokers are bringing about change. They have begun to see the potential of the insurance for ex-offenders market and specialist insurance schemes have been set up targeting reformed offenders.
It is standard practice for specilaist insurers to ask for the disclosure of criminal convictions and criminal records at the point when an insurance policy is quoted for, but the circumstances of the insured are often subject to change between the point of sale and when a claim is made.
Under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act , most criminal convictions can become ‘spent', meaning they do not have to be declared when applying for a job or obtaining insurance. The length of time before a conviction becomes spent depends on the nature of the crime and the length of the sentence imposed. A prison sentence of up to six months become spent after seven years, while fines, probation orders, community service sentences and anti-social behaviour orders become spent after five years. Custodial sentences of more than two and a half years can never become spent.
But once you have done your time surely your conviction should be spent? Julie Wright, the deputy chief executive of Unlock, says: "Once a sentence is completed, an offender has done his time, so why should he, and possibly his family, continue to be punished for it?"
Insurers have been less than keen to provide insurance for ex-offenders. Knights has been trying to place insurance for ex-offenders for the past four years, but has not seen much interest from insurers. "The composite insurers are completely uninterested in this market. It's like banging your head against a brick wall," she says.
Insurers defend their stance on the basis that ex-offenders looking for specialist insurance are a greater risk. A spokesman for the ABI says that even though they had completed their sentence, they still represent a higher risk to insurers than those without convictions or criminal records. "This attitude is not discrimination, it is a matter of risk assessment. Insurers simply look to manage their risk exposure," he says.
Unlock rejects insurers arguments that ex-offenders are a greater risk.
No fraudulent claims
Biba head of technical services Peter Staddon says brokers were aware of the problems of providing insurancefor ex-offenders, but that there was no insurance industry standard in dealing with ex-offenders.
Staddon says Biba has received some calls from members of the public and referred them on to specialist insurance brokers.
Wright makes the added point that the attitude of insurance companies in refusing to provide insurance for ex-offenders encourages ex-offenders to lie to their insurance companies. The issue of insurance for ex-offenders with a criminal record is a major one. 1.4 million crimes are detected in the UK in 2003/04. Unlock says that a third of all men under the age of 40 have a criminal conviction, for offences ranging from minor speeding convictions to violent offences.
Unlock is compiling a list of companies which it says discriminate against ex-offenders, and plans to name and shame the insurers which it believes are the biggest culprits, as well as organising a boycott of their services.