Have you ever had a problem with your Insurance Company?... 2007

 My daughter drives a little Citroen; at least she did until a large white van demolished it in March 2007.
That day I got a tearful phone call from my daughter who managed to impart the news that she was sitting on the kerb surrounded by bits of her car and people milling around.
I immediately set out to drive to the spot, only a few miles away, and found, as I should have expected, a long queue of stationary cars ending a mile or so from the scene. Fortunately the queue moved progressively in chunks of twenty or so cars at a time until we could see, in the distance, lots of blue flashing lights.
Gradually I neared the place and pulled into a large lay-by and got out of the car, whereupon a police constable approached and introduced himself, enquiring if I was "Dad". He explained that he'd been giving the queue some priority, knowing I was probably stuck at the back, and led me to an ambulance that was blocking the nearside carriageway. Why wasn't it parked in the lay-by?
Inside was my daughter, still tearful but quite composed as she explained that she had remembered my instructions about refusing to have her car collected by anyone and taken away. A sensible thing to do I'd thought as it would involve finding it and no doubt having to fork out a large payment for a breakdown truck.
The policemen had by the time I'd arrived, with the help of some firemen I think, righted the car and pushed it onto a car park opposite.
Was it driveable? Not really as there was only about three quarters of it left.

After some time, during which time various statements were being taken etc I was able to set off home with my daughter, who thankfully seemed to be uninjured, having been using her seatbelt, and cushioned from any impact by the drivers' airbag which had deployed itself in a timely fashion.

On arriving home I called our insurance company (who also have a chain of supermarkets). The call was answered immediately without any delay and, after explaining the situation to a nice lady, she advised me that they would have the Citroen towed to their authorised repairer, and would I attend the scene to supervise this.

I set off back to the site. By this time it was pretty cold and night was falling.
An AA recovery van pulled up and I trotted over to check if he was the chap called by my insurance company. No he wasn't he explained, so I waited for another twenty minutes or so until a large low loader pulled up. The driver eyed the Citroen. He parked the low loader in front of the ramps and asked if I'd tried to drive it home? "You're joking", I said. "No it looks possible", he said and proceeded to poke around under the bonnet, which was some 6 inches or so clear of the rest of the car, and something like half the size it should have been. After a moment he'd obviously found what he was looking for. "It's the engine cut-out that stops fuel reaching the engine", he explained and he reset it.

He turned the key and the engine started immediately so he started to drive the car up the ramp. It made some funny clonking noises in the process and having reached the top it suddenly descended twice as rapidly as it had gone up.
"Did you have any trouble with the brakes before the accident", he asked?

"From the sound of it I think the driveshaft on the nearside just snapped and cut the brake pipe", I said, not wanting to sound a complete ignoramus. He looked underneath. "Spot on", he said and proceeded to unhitch a winch, which he then used to drag the poor car to the top of the ramp.
After some discussion he got me to sign a paper and disappeared into the night.

I went home and waited, wondering how much the episode was going to cost me….

At 9 o'clock on the dot the next morning, the phone rang and a chap from Norwich Union asked me if it was my Citroen. "Yes", I said, "but I'm not insured with you".
"Have no fear", he said. "our customer has admitted full responsibility for the accident and we want to take over the claim and bring it to a successful conclusion" (or words to that effect). I explained that my own insurers were handling it. "Call them and tell them you want to withdraw the claim", he said.
I rang my own insurance company and they said, "No problem".

About 11 o'clock I had another call. It was the engineer working for my insurers. "I'm looking at your Citroen", he said, "and I'm very sorry but I don't think it will ever get back on the road as the damage is too serious". "I think I knew this already I said... what next, and by the way my insurance company are no longer handling the claim". "No problem", he said. "What do you think I'll get for the car?" "I should say £1,750", he said. "Well it cost £1,650 a year ago so that seems OK to me".

A few days later I had another phone call. This time it was Norwich Union's engineer.
He said, "I'm very sorry but I don't think your Citroen will ever get back on the road as the damage is too serious". "I think I knew this already", I said, "and anyway my own company's engineer already told me this was so". "How much did he say the car was worth", he asked. "£1,750", I said. "That's exactly what I thought", he responded.

The same day Norwich Union rang to tell me they were going to handle the claim as their driver had admitted responsibility for the accident, I was called by a chap from a local car hire company. "We're delivering a hire car to you but it will only be a tiny one as yours is quite small".
"I don't mind how tiny it is", I said, "but we do need it today". "We're not sure we can deliver it today", said the chap, "as all our tiny cars are on hire already". "I told him to do his best but next morning bright and early was essential". He called back later and said that 1pm was the best he could do. "That's unacceptable", I told him. "We need a car tomorrow morning as I have an important appointment and there are no buses here".

The phone rang later that day. "You understand about the £400 excess don't you", the voice said. "What are you talking about", I replied, "I'm not insuring my car I'm getting a hire car from Norwich Union?" "Well, because your daughter is only 17 we have a rule that if she damages our car she will have to pay the first £400 of any repair". "I'm sorry", I said, "but that is totally unacceptable". "But it's our rule", the lady said.

"I'm not agreeing to it and you'll have to take the matter up with Norwich Union", I said.

Later a flustered chap from Norwich Union rang and explained that there would be a £400 excess. "I'm not interested in any strings like that", I said. "I just want a car in place of the one your insured driver wrecked. I definitely won't agree to an excess". He tried to argue but I had an important customer with me so I told him to sort it out and make sure the hire car was here as soon as possible. He tried to argue again so I told him to go away and sort it out with his boss as I couldn't spend any more time arguing with him and hung up.

When my customer had gone I rang a phone number that the driver of the low loader had given me. It was some sort of solicitors' hot line. "You don't have to accept an excess", the nice lady solicitor said. "After all you don't even know what sort of car you're getting. Tell them you don't accept an excess".

I rang Norwich Union and told them what the nice lady had said and they agreed to have a think about it and call me back.

It all sounds so simple but ringing Norwich Union wasn't easy as one can get routed to a chap with an indecipherable accent in Delhi. Even ringing a direct line to an individual isn't that easy, as you can usually hear several changes of ringing as the line is switched progressively to one number then another and finally to a general purpose number at the end of a queue. I had to wait up to 30 or 40 minutes sometimes to get through to someone.

Some time later the hire car person called back. "We could deliver a VW Golf 2 litre Diesel tomorrow at 11am", he said. "When we deliver the car he said we shall need you to sign a blank credit card slip". I was puzzled by this… but, "do your best", I told him, and the next day, surprisingly at 8:30am a new VW Golf arrived at the door.

I showed the driver my driving license, and that of my daughter, and after pointing out there were only minor blemishes on the car, he went off with a colleague that had been waiting for him. No mention of credit card slips fortunately; otherwise an augment would have ensued (never agree to this…on this point see later).

The phone rang and it was another chap from Norwich Union. "We're waiving the £400 excess requirement", he said. "The car should be with you soon". "Thank you", I said. "It arrived a few minutes ago".

The next event of any consequence was a shopping trip to France. I rang the hire car company who promised to despatch a "green card" (actually called something different nowadays) that day. "Thank you", I said and went to hang up the phone. "Can I have your credit card number", a voice said…? "Why", I asked? "It will be £25 for the green card", was the reply. "Ask Norwich Union for any extra money", I told the lady from the hire car company and she said she would.

Later the phone rang. It was a chap from Norwich Union. "Why do you want a green card", he asked? "We have a trip to France for the day and we've booked to take our car", I told him. "Unfortunately it's resting in a yard at the back of a garage so we're taking your hire car", and, after some initial bleating, he agreed to pay the extra cost.

The next thing that happened was a request from a disposal company for the MoT test certificate for our Citroen, together with its registration document. I recall saying to the insurance company's engineer that I didn't want the Citroen back; although he said I could have it if I wanted it. As I didn't want it blocking our driveway I said he could have it, although thinking about it in retrospect, I could have sold lots of bits and pieces on Ebay.

Like most people, laying ones hand on an MoT certificate is not the easiest thing in the world. Once a year is bad enough, but as our filing system is always just about to be sorted out, finding any document takes ages.

I put the letter on one side, not realising the significance of this move.

The significance, I learned later, was as follows… Once the disposal company receives the paperwork for the old car they inform the insurance company of the fact and they issue the cheque for the value of the car. Essentially they are purchasing the wreck and you're being paid on delivery. However, no one explained this, so normal day to day living went on, using the nice new hire car, oblivious to the fact that no cheque was being issued.

My daughter quite got to like the Golf, and the purchase of a replacement for the Citroen got put on the back burner….

Eventually a letter arrived. "Where's the MoT certificate for the Citroen?" the letter said.

I called them to explain we couldn't find it. "Send it when you do", the chap said.

I got slightly worried because of a line in their letter about the car being "off the road", and big fines for not telling the authorities. Of course I had by then removed the tax disk from the car at the insurance company's prompting, and sent it off to Swansea for a refund.

I decided to look into the business of the car being declared "off road". After logging onto the government website, and entering a number from the tax document, all was in order. The car was now registered as being "off road" and I needn't worry about being fined for owning a car without tax. At the same time I found that I could print out from the website, a document in place of the MoT certificate.

I gathered together the relevant papers and stuck them in an envelope and addressed it to the disposal company. Of course just as I'd sealed the envelope my wife found the errant MoT certificate. It had been filed away in a box labelled "for filing"…..

Posting the envelope triggered into motion a chain of events which resulted in a cheque arriving through the letterbox.

I looked at the cheque for £1,750. It was addressed to Miss L.Lauren. Oh dear I said. That's not her name. The L stands for Lauren and the surname is wrong. I called Norwich Union and explained the error. "We'll send a replacement", they said, "just send us the wrong cheque and we'll send the new one". I said it may be easier if they addressed the replacement cheque to me as I was the registered owner of the car anyway.

Another week passed and the new cheque arrived. Unfortunately the spelling of my surname must have been done by someone from Romania as some of the letters might have been chosen from the Cyrillic alphabet. The second cheque was duly returned with the consequent delays etc…

At this point I might recap on the business of telephoning Norwich Union. At first one seems to be directed to a gentleman in Delhi. As I could rarely understand what these chaps say I got into the habit of asking to be directed to an English speaker, preferably in the UK. All this takes time and I was forever listening to a voice telling me I was in a queue and I was to wait. Usually the wait resulted in a person telling me I had come through to the wrong person or I was to call another number or something.

I eventually accumulated a list of telephone numbers and the names of people within the insurance company. In theory I could then ring a specific person handling the claim. Not that easy unfortunately as I explained earlier, as the person was often not available and usually one could hear a series of redials taking place and this often resulted in a totally inappropriate person answering the phone, and of course after a long wait in a queue.

I got into the habit of complaining about the wait in a queue while the person was inquiring about my postcode, date of birth, the reference number or whatever, and I might add getting more and more annoyed with the whole thing, but I think this was like water off a duck's back and they took absolutely no notice.

A some point we decided to go and view some cars from which we could select one to replace our Citroen. When I explained about our £1,750 I was usually met with a guffaw and a statement that "we don't deal with that that class of car", or "see the chap down the road under the railway arches as he sometimes has something cheap…"

I called Norwich Union. I don't think we can find a suitable car to replace our Citroen I said. "Prices seem to have gone up". "I'm afraid our engineer agreed the value with you and will not budge. £1,750 is all you're going to get and that's an end to it".

"What about the other aspects of our claim", I asked?

"What do you mean", the chap said?

Well I've wasted hours and hours already trying to deal with Norwich Union and I'm sure I'll have to spend days looking for a new car. "That's nothing to do with us", he said. "It certainly is", I replied. "Your white van driver caused all this upset and you'll have to cover my costs".

After a lot of arguing I was redirected to a young lady who explained that I'd have to submit wage slips and a note from my employer stating that I'd lost some pay, and just how much this was.

"I'm self employed", I said. "In that case we want copies of your accounts for the last three years". "You must be joking", I said. "Firstly I don't prepare accounts, and secondly the accident was in March, a month ago not three years ago". "We still want three years accounts", the lady said, "and that's an end to it". "I'm afraid I don't accept this, please give me the email address of your manager and I'll put my claim in writing". She obliged.

I then sent an email listing the various problems I'd had and the time it had taken to deal with them. Being self employed means that every hour of the day is important. Either you work or you have time off and I don't see why I should lose either of these. If anything my free time is more important than working. Anyway I made a realistic list and attached periods in hours to each then used a labour rate of £30 an hour to calculate the loss. £30 may seem high, but that represents labour plus overhead. The overhead is probably more than the labour content and if this is omitted from a labour cost then any business will probably be in dire straits within a month or two.

Strangely, after sending the email, I received the next morning a cheque for about three quarters of my claim.

We then considered a personal injury claim. There are two options here. Firstly to submit the details to an ambulance chasing firm of solicitors (you hear these advertising ad nauseum on the radio these days) or secondly, just ask for a realistic sum from the insurance company.

I asked Norwich Union what they proposed. "We can get a doctor to examine your daughter and see what they say". "OK", I said, "send them over and check her". "Oh we can't do that because there's a queue. It'll take a couple of months at least".
I suspect this is a ploy to make one give up unless the personal injuries are significant. I said I thought this was dreadful as my daughter's bruises will have vanished by the time the doctor sees her. The young lady from Norwich Union asked me to hold the line a minute then said. "We do have a scheme whereby we can just pay you £500".

I said £1,000 would seem more appropriate. "Hold on a moment", she said… then responded; "£750".
"OK", I said "we'll accept that. By the way", I said, "since I first rang your company all our communication has been by telephone and we've had nothing in writing". "We don't write letters any more", she said. Odd… I thought. That's decidedly peculiar.

A cheque arrived the next day, and this time, it was correctly made out.

Still no sign however of the £1,750 for the replacement car. I rang a few times and said we still had the hire car but no money for the new car… but that didn't seem to help.

At one time a lady on the phone said, "You keep the hire car until five days after you get our cheque". "When will that be", I asked, because the hire car company already rang and said they were coming to collect their car?

"I'll tell them to hold on", she said. "We'll tell them when to collect it".

So we held on for at least another month until, at long last, a cheque arrived in the post. It was correctly addressed so it was accepted by the bank. We received a phone call from Norwich Union. "The hire car will be collected next Monday", a lady said.

Sure enough on Monday morning a chap arrived, examined the car and, being happy with its condition, drove it away.

By then we'd bought a replacement car and all was well.

At least we thought all was well until a letter dropped onto the doormat. It was a demand for £533.44p from "Sophie" at the hire car company. "Please send a cheque for the full amount, or ring and use your credit card", the letter said.

As it was Saturday morning, of course no-one was on the other end of the phone number except a young lady manning an emergency desk. "I'll ask them to call you first thing on Monday", she promised.

First thing passed then second thing, so I rang the person whose name was on the bottom of the letter. "Why didn't you call me", I asked? "Why should we", the lady replied. "Because your emergency person said you would reply". "I don't know anything about that", she said. "You just can't get the staff these days", I said.

"What about this letter demanding £533.44p", I said. "Shouldn't you be asking Norwich Union not me?"

"Their contract ended over a month ago", she said… "Now you have to pay". "Who asked you to collect the car", I asked. "Norwich Union did". "Well doesn't that tell you that it's them you should be dealing with not me? Anyway I'm not paying you a penny. In fact with all the upset we had after receiving your letter I think you owe me". "How much", she said. "I think £50 would be reasonable", I said. "Well I don't think so", she said and left it there. "By the way", I said… "Is your name Sophie?" "No", she said, "Sophie no longer works for this company". "But it's only Monday and her letter is dated Friday", "that's when she was sacked", the lady said…

"You just can't get the staff these days", I said.

I rang Norwich Union. "Please ring the hire car company and tell them you'll pay their bill", I said. "I'm very upset". "Let us have the bill", the lady said. "I'm sorry", I said, "I'll give you their reference number but I'm not going to bother posting it to you. Why should I spend time and money covering up for your mistakes?"

They did ring them and sort it out I suppose because we haven't heard anything more.

That was mid-June, about 3 months after the accident.

I don't think I've ever had to deal with such inept people.


return home