Which? has learned that insurance firm Holidaysafe has been emailing some of its customers advising them against making cancellation claims they may in fact be covered for.
Insurers expect to pay out £275m in coronavirus-related claims, according to the Association of British Insurers, but many would-be holidaymakers will be left disappointed on discovering their insurance doesn't cover cancellation or disruption.
If insurance policy documents weren't complicated enough, we've found an insurer giving clearly incorrect advice that contradicted its own policy.
We've even found policy documents with clearly contradictory statements, on the same page.
On 17 March, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against 'all but essential' international travel. This was originally for 31 days, but has now been extended 'indefinitely'.
While most insurance policies won't cover travel in breach of FCO advice, the majority will allow you to claim if new advice forces you to cancel a pre-booked trip.
'Unfortunately, your policy does not cover cancellation due to changes in FCO advice. We would advise that you speak to your airline, hotel or tour operator to discuss either a refund for any monies paid, or alternative trip dates and options.'
The email also recommended that customers refer to it and its website information, before contacting Holidaysafe directly.
The Which? member's policy wording, however, told a different story.
Specifically, in the document's 'Pre-travel' section, among listed reasons for circumstances in which a cancellation claim could be made was: 'The Travel Advice Unit of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the World Health Organization or similar body issuing a directive advising against all but essential travel to the country or specific area, or event, to which you are travelling.'
In other words, this Holidaysafe customer - and possibly many others - should have been able to claim for cancellation.
Which? has confirmed with Holidaysafe that the member's policy does, in fact, cover FCO cancellation claims, and that the email advising it didn't was sent to him in error - along with 'a small number' of other customers.
Holidaysafe has declined to share the specific number of customers affected. A spokesperson told us:
'This email was sent to the customer in error and we are very sorry for any confusion we may have caused. We understand that this is a stressful time and so we have been getting in touch with our customers to help them understand exactly what they are covered for in their policies.
'The customer bought one of our Holiday Family Niche policies last year, which includes cover against a change in Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice. Therefore, they and any other Holidaysafe Family Niche policyholders are welcome to submit a claim for consideration.
'We can confirm that only a small number of our customers have received the incorrect email. We are contacting these customers to apologise and provide them with the correct information.'
Unfortunately, the email isn't the only example of mixed messaging from Holidaysafe.
The smallprint in some of its policies - including the one owned by the Which? member - is equally confusing, and could potentially lead some customers to not pursue claims they're entitled to make.
We reviewed the wordings of 'Holiday Family Niche' policies still potentially in effect, and saw two versions versions of the booklet, issued between May and October last year, that contain paradoxical clauses when it comes to trips scuppered by FCO warnings.
On the same page, these booklets appear to include FCO advice as a legitimate reason for cancelling - and then exclude it.
We've highlighted the relevant text in yellow; press the screen icon to expand the image:
We've asked Holidaysafe to comment on what it's doing to clarify the situation for customers holding these documents.
A spokesperson said: “This was an unfortunate administrative error which affects customers who bought this specialised, niche policy. It only affected a very small percentage of customers who bought a policy.
“We have written to the small number of customers to apologise for the administrative error and given them advice on how to go about making a claim.”
Versions of the policy sold from the 14th of March (shortly after coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation), unambiguously exclude FCO cancellation claims, along with any claims related to coronavirus.
Mistakes are understandable. Insurers are, like many services, struggling with a huge number of enquiries.
However, the complexity of many travel insurance policies, not just Holidaysafe policies, means customers may be put off claiming, even without incorrect emails or contradictory terms and conditions.
If you think you have, or are likely to have, cause to make a claim, contact the insurer. This is especially important if there are ambiguities in the policy wording or any written advice you've been provided.
If your insurer declines your claim, make sure you're provided a clear, written explanation as to why. If you disagree with any of its reasons, make a formal complaint to the company.
If you remain unsatisfied with the outcome, you can escalate the matter to the . It's especially worth doing this if the insurer's decision hinges on especially unclear wording in your policy document.
Insurers expect you to exhaust other options for recouping your losses before registering a claim with them. If your airline or holiday company has cancelled your booking, you may be entitled to a refund. Check for additional information.
Which? members can call our for guidance on anything discussed in this article, as well as a range of other money matters. It's part of our Which? membership so members can get guidance at no extra cost.
Call our Money Helpline Service on 029 2267 0001.