Paul Weldin isn’t a crook. Yet you’d be forgiven for thinking he was given the way Ageas has treated him over a disagreement about whether his family home in East Devon had five or seven bedrooms before it burnt down last April.
Paul, as Ageas rightly points out, made a mistake when he filled in his insurance forms.
Even if the 42-year-old sales manager didn’t consider his two basic attic rooms as bedrooms, he should at least have tried to list these somewhere else on the forms. Without this information, the insurer argues, it had an inaccurate impression of the size of his house.
Nightmare: Paul and Sophie Weldin, pictured with children Daisy, ten, Woody, eight, and twins Albie and Dexter, five, face a big bill to rebuild their East Devon home
But whether the blame lies with baffling online forms on price comparison websites, a moment of absent-mindedness on Paul’s part, or something else — even the Ombudsman agrees that he was ‘careless’ rather than ‘deliberate’ in making an error.
Paul had no idea, of course, that this seemingly minor detail would result in Ageas refusing to pay a single penny when a freak fire destroyed the house.
It left him and his wife Sophie, 44, facing a £460,000 bill and relying on the generosity of their friends for clothes and toys for their four young children.
You should never cut corners on an insurance policy.
But what I find astonishing in the Weldins’ case is that the Ageas policy Paul took out actually covered rebuild costs up to £650,000, plus £65,000 for contents — far more than they need.
So should the number of bedrooms bear any relevance to their claim?
If the company wanted, it could easily deduct the cost of rebuilding two of the bedrooms from its payout.
Refusing any cover at all seems wildly disproportionate. As we all move to buying insurance online, these types of wrangles may become more commonplace, so it’s vital that customers can rely on a strong safety net when disputes arise around claims being treated unfairly and with prejudice.
The Ombudsman is starting to look woefully unfit for this purpose. Reports suggest staff are too inexperienced and too poorly-trained to cope with the amount of cases they’re asked to tackle.
Did the Weldins’ case fall foul of these failings? A spokesman insists not.
Whatever the truth, Paul and Sophie’s terrifying story is a reminder of how easy it is to trip up when buying insurance online.
Make certain all your details are 100 per cent accurate and check with the insurer over the phone if you’re unsure.
If you don’t, you can expect short shrift should the worst happen.
Stop the snoopers
If you’re a fan of Facebook, Twitter and the rest, you’re effectively saying you’re happy to give up some privacy. Fair enough — that’s your prerogative.
But bear in mind that banks, insurers, mobile phone firms and even the taxman now think that what you post online is somehow their business, too.
As we reveal today, social media giants are letting financial firms access sensitive information about your life — if they stump up a load of cash and you give permission.
Facebook and others now have serious questions to answer.
For example, just how easily are social media firms granting access to your data? Can they be sure you’ve given your permission?
And how do they know the information isn’t used for nefarious purposes? It also troubles me that insurers and banks think they can work you out from an online post — for instance, that you’re more likely to crash if you use exclamation marks on Facebook.
What utter cobblers. Until social media giants start acting as online policemen for your data, the snoopers must be reined in.
Keep sending me examples of firms using bullying tactics to make you install a smart energy meter. Remember, you do not need to have one of these devices in your home.
They send readings direct to your supplier, so you don’t get inaccurate estimated bills and you can see how much gas and electricity you’re using minute-by-minute.
But you’re giving up privacy and are unlikely to be able to switch the meter to another supplier for a cheaper deal.
Just say no if you feel pressured, and tell us if the bullies won’t leave you alone.