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THE CLAIM DUCKS; How insurance firms get out of paying up.

AN insurance company last week refused a payout to Paul Burrell after the blaze which destroyed his flower shop...because he hadn't told them he was THE Paul Burrell. But you don't have to be a former royal butler to fall foul of the small-print insurers use to avoid coughing up. Here VIVIENNE PARRY reveals the tactics they use...How dare you have a tumourMAUREEN Harvey was rushed to hospital with a brain tumour shortly after arriving in America with her husband.

She had to have an emergency operation, then suffered further complications, and her medical bills soon topped pounds 350,000.

But her travel insurers refused to pay up because she hadn't told them she was suffering from the completely unrelated medical condition of angina.

The get out clause was hidden in the "non-disclosure'" small print of the policy.You didn't say sister was sickMRS S. booked a holiday just three weeks in advance when her sister was diagnosed with lung cancer.

She thought it was best to go away at once so she would be at home to help as her sister's disease progressed. But the illness was tragically short and her sister was dead within a fortnight.

When Mrs S cancelled the holiday the insurer refused to pay up because she hadn't told them her sister was ill.

Mrs S. says: "I would never have dreamt of going on holiday if I''d known she was that ill."Nuts to your squirrel claimWHEN Mrs J. and her husband returned from a short break they discovered a squirrel had fallen down the chimney and caused more than pounds 4,000-worth of damage to their home as it panicked to get out. The insurers refused to pay for the repairs under the "vermin" section of the small print.

Damage by vermin is specifically excluded by many insurers. And although most people think that only applies to rats and mice, the insurers include squirrels.You didn't read our small-printMR K took out index-linked contents insurance in 1984 and renewed every year. The insurer said index-linking, "takes account of inflation when assessing claims and renewal premiums".

But when he was burgled in 2001 they rejected most of the claim under the "any item worth more than pounds 500 is not insured unless specified" small-print.

None of the items had been worth that much in 1984 so Mr K took his case to the Insurance Ombudsman...and won.You've made an expensive errorWHEN Miss A was burgled and thieves took a leather jacket, hi-fi, microwave, DVD player and wide-screen TV her claim for pounds 7,200 was refused under the "valuables" small-print.

She learned the hard way that insurers define "valuables@" differently to the average person.

Miss A had wrongly assumed it meant items such as jewellery and, as she didn't have much of that type of thing, hadn't worried that her policy only covered her for pounds 3,000-worth of valuables.You won't be collecting the full amountMR B had a new-for-old contents policy and believed he was insured for contents valued at pounds 30,000.

But when a burglar took his hi-fi and collection of nearly 1,000 CDs his pounds 15,000 claim was turned down - even though he had listed all the discs. Instead of pounds 15,000 he was offered just pounds 2,000 under the "collections" section of the policy. Mr B hadn't realised that some contents policies say claims for collections of items such as china, books and discs must not be for more than a certain percentage of the total sum insured.You're too pally with a celebrityKNOW a celebrity? Invite them round to your house on a regular basis? You may be invalidating your contents policy.

You are supposed to declare all changes in circumstance - and having Liz Hurley as your new best friend would count because it would make you a greater insurance risk.

And don''t regularly give a celeb a lift. If you do, any car insurance claim could also be rejected.You have been under-insuredMRS W was covered for pounds 30,000 of contents insurance. So when there was a small fire in her sitting room, she claimed for a new three-piece suite costing pounds 1,200.

But she was offered just pounds 750 under the "under-insured" small-print.

If the insurer believes you to be under insured by, say, 25 per cent, they will only offer you 75 per cent of your claim.

And they'll stick to that even if your claim is only a small part of the overall insurance figure...and how to make sure you will be coveredIF you are worried about your policy, read through it carefully. If you renew automatically every year, ask for a new copy. Tell the firm about any changes in your life. It is estimated 60 per cent of homes are underinsured. Check every room and decide the cost of replacing every item.

COMPLAINING: Make a formal complaint to your insurer. If you do not receive satisfaction within eight weeks, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service on 0845 080 1800/www.


BLAZE: Burrell's shop
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 5, 2003
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