The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is today launching Mental Health Standards to provide better support for customers with mental health conditions when applying for health, travel or protection insurance.
Customers can often face too many barriers when trying to access the service sector, especially in an increasingly digital world. This can be particularly difficult and distressing for people with mental health conditions, and the insurance sector is no different in needing to do more to support all customers.
Implementation of the Standards by ABI members will help drive consistency and best practice across the industry, meaning people with prior or existing mental health conditions will have clearer communications and a better understanding of the process and decisions insurers take when applying for cover.
The Standards have been developed in consultation with mental health experts, including Mental Health UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Actions to help customers include:
1. 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.
2. Supporting customers throughout their application by explaining the process and why questions are being asked.
3. Standardising communication with customers by removing technical language, making any exclusions clear and signposting consumers to relevant support services.
4. 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.
Launched at the ABI event, ‘Unspoken stigma to national news – a spotlight on mental health and access to insurance’, insurers will have until 31st December 2021 to implement the standards.
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. Research by Mental Health UK found 86% of people affected by mental illness did not know where to go for independent advice when applying for insurance.
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.”
Dr Jed Boardman, social inclusion lead at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “People living with mental illness are often disadvantaged when buying insurance, so it is excellent to see the insurance industry coming together and working with mental health organisations.
“We want to encourage insurers to implement these historic standards as soon as possible, and help the thousands of people living with a mental illness have fair access to insurance.”
John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury said:
“We know that financial shocks can be really damaging for our mental health. Insurance products provide a crucial safety net that helps to support mental well-being, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions. 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.”
Caroline Waters, Interim Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Mental ill-health can affect anyone. Most of us will either experience a mental health condition or know someone who has. That is why standards such as these are so important and can go a long way to ensuring that anyone who may be struggling is properly supported in the insurance system.”