By any stretch of the imagination, 97-year-old Mary George should be treated like a heroine. As a young woman during the London Blitz, she worked long hours in a munitions factory, living in fear of Luftwaffe bombs.
And, like many of her generation, she endured years worrying about her husband, Richard — who was at the World War II D-Day landings with the Royal Engineers — while she raised four children in a time of rationing and austerity.
Yet, rather than treat Mary as a valued customer, insurer Halifax is overcharging the widow by as much as £590 a year on her home insurance. And, worse, it refuses to release her from the expensive deal.
Callous: Halifax has been criticised for overcharging 97-year-old Mary George by as much as £590 a year on her home insurance
In fact, all Halifax has done to Mary’s policy is hike her premiums by a further £360 a year, after discovering she had gone into a nursing home two months ago and left her home in Brentwood, Essex, empty.
Mary had become too frail to live on her own following Richard’s death in March, after 77 years of marriage.
Her family say that if she was aware of what was going on, she would be horrified by the actions of a firm she and Richard trusted as customers of 40 years.
They believe this is why the couple never shopped around. Richard also struggled with his eyesight, while Mary became arthritic and was often confused, so using the internet or a telephone was difficult.
Her daughter Lynn, 65, discovered through her parents’ bank statements that Mary was paying £70 a month, or £840 a year. They had never even made a claim.
W hen Lynn checked Halifax’s website, she found a similar policy for just £250.
Money Mail also used the comparison site GoCompare and found Halifax offers a policy for £109 that would cover all of Mary’s contents and the cost of rebuilding her home.
Lynn rang Halifax to query the charges and asked to switch Mary to the £250 policy. But it said that as she did not have power of attorney, a legal document giving her permission to act on Mary’s behalf, it could not help.
She was then told that, as the house was empty, the risk was higher and Mary’s premiums would rise by £30 a month, or £360 a year.
Lynn says: ‘I couldn’t believe it. Why did Halifax fail to inform my parents that there were cheaper options?
‘There must be thousands of elderly people who fought a war and built up our society, only for the next generation to rip them off for being loyal.’ The family complained to the company.
Experts fear other families could face a similar legal limbo when parents go into care homes.
Halifax hiked Mary’s premiums by a further £360 a year, after discovering she had gone into a nursing home two months ago and left her home in Brentwood, Essex, empty
Martyn James, of consumer site Resolver, says: ‘You don’t need power of attorney to tell a business a family member or friend is being ripped off.
‘I’d expect them to investigate and amend things if necessary, even if they cannot discuss it. There is no reason why Halifax cannot put things right when it is alerted to customers being overcharged.’
Other readers are overpaying for their Halifax cover, too. Many of the policies affected are old and have policy numbers that start with the letters MOR.
Until recently, Halifax was charging Joan Packman £901 a year to insure her four-bedroom house in Croydon, South London. Joan, 95, struggles to use a phone and does not use the internet.
But her stepson found she could buy similar cover with Halifax’s sister bank Lloyds for £275 — less than a third of the cost.
Halifax told former accountant Martin his stepmother’s policy was no longer sold, but was still renewed.
Martin, 69, says: ‘When I said the letters ‘MOR’, I could tell the call-handler had come across these issues before. You’d pay £900 a year for cover for a manor house, not an ordinary home.’
Halifax would not confirm how many other policies like Joan’s are in force. It says her policy had extras such as home emergency cover, accidental damage and legal expenses cover, which the new Lloyds plan did not include. Joan says she didn’t need these.
A Halifax spokesman says the Lloyds policy ‘did not have the same level of cover’ and was offered on a 40 per cent discount.
The Financial Conduct Authority has called on firms to offer more support to older customers, while the Financial Ombudsman Service has said it will take action against insurers over unfair premiums increases.
Your insurer can take eight weeks to investigate, then you can take your case to the Ombudsman (0800 023 4567).
A Halifax spokesman says of Mary George’s case: ‘New policies often include an introductory discount for the insurer to remain competitive. It is standard for policies to cover unoccupancy for 30 days.
‘Beyond this, the risk increases, as the property is more prone to break-ins or damage, which can go unnoticed for a longer period of time.
‘The premium would increase to reflect this, which is standard practice across the market.’