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FSA To Regulate All Sales Of Travel Insurance From 2009

May 2, 2008
On January 1, 2009, major changes will take effect to alter the way travel insurance is sold. The changes will apply to companies selling it as part of a holiday package, such as travel agents, tour operators, coach companies and airlines. It will also affect outlets such as retail shops, chemists, supermarkets and the Post Office. Many of these companies are already in compliance with government regulations to sell other products. However, a double standard has existed regarding the way they have sold insurance because 'stand-alone' companies (which only sell travel insurance) have been required to comply with FSA regulations since 2005.

The UK's financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), will take over regulation of the sale of travel insurance in the United Kingdom as of January 2009. From January 1, it will only be available for purchase through FSA-regulated agents. Small travel agencies and tour operators may not be able to justify the expense or time involved in the complicated process of complying with FSA regulations. These companies may have no alternative but to refer their clients to FSA-regulated brokers and agents.

The news has not been welcomed by many package holiday operators, some of whom believe their agents are suitably trained and qualified to sell the insurance. However, evidence suggests that not all companies have done such a good job. The government has been under pressure to enact this new law because of past insurance-related problems. Many consumers were exposed to potential harm while travelling because they were not properly advised of the limitations of the policies they were purchasing.

One of the most significant areas of concern has been regarding exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions. If a policy is sold without the disclosure of pre-existing medical conditions the result could be the denial of all related claims in the event of a problem. Another area that has caused concern has been failure to inform customers that they may need to obtain additional cover for hazardous sports activities. Some policies only cover activities organised and arranged by the tour operator or representative. When insurance is sold as part of a holiday package, customers may, understandably, focus on the excitement and anticipation of the holiday and not pay due attention to the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. Unfortunately, many do not find out until it is too late.

FSA regulation will translate to a much more efficient service for customers. The seller will be bound by strict FSA principles and guidelines which require that customers must be treated fairly and have access to a structured complaints handling process. They will also have the benefit of the services of the Financial Ombudsman should any disputes arise which cannot be settled directly with the company.

Those travelling to European Union member countries are advised to obtain the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before departure. However, the EHIC is not a substitute for taking out a separate comprehensive travel insurance policy. The EHIC is of use in medical emergencies and accidents where free or low cost treatment may be available in participating countries. However, it does not provide cover for the myriad of problems that can arise during travel, such as lost luggage, theft of valuables, cancellation and curtailment of the trip, and emergency repatriation. Many people are not aware that neither a private policy nor the EHIC will provide cover for those who travel abroad with the specific intention of obtaining medical treatment.

Once FSA regulation is in place to oversee the way insurance is sold, customers are sure to be better informed before they set off. Currently, it is believed that approximately ten to fifteen percent of travellers depart on trips without taking out insurance. This translates into millions of uninsured and vulnerable people visiting foreign countries each year. It is hoped that consumer confidence in the insurance industry and general awareness of the importance of travel insurance will receive a boost once it has been stamped by the impressive footprint of the FSA.
About the Author
Jean Andrews is a freelance writer living in the UK. She regularly contributes articles for TIA Ltd who offer travel insurance at great prices online.
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