Recent rises in the cost of home insurance are bad enough. But if you have a criminal record, it can make the getting cover even more expensive. In some cases, providers will simply refuse to offer you a policy.
So if you have a conviction, how can you get the best deal on insurance?
New industry guidelines
In early 2011, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) teamed up with UNLOCK (the National Association of Reformed Offenders) to publish guidelines aimed at helping ex-offenders who are trying to buy a wide range of policies, including buildings and contents cover.
The guidelines tell insurers how they should deal with customers who have criminal records:
Companies should provide clear information about how they use criminal convictions to set policy prices.
They should ask clear questions about previous offences during the application process
Insurers should offer cover to applicants with convictions wherever possible.
If they cannot offer a policy, the insurer do all they can to help applicants find an alternative provider.
There is nothing to force insurers to offer better rates for ex-offenders, however, so the guidelines will not necessarily make cover cheaper for those in this group.
But they do mean that customers with convictions should be treated fairly when they are looking for insurance. Should you need more information on cancel or change your policy then contact your current provider.
Rules when applying for cover
When you sign up for an insurance policy, the law states you have to disclose “all material facts”.
This applies even if you are not asked about them specifically on any application form.
Unspent criminal convictions would be considered to be material facts: this means you should inform any potential provider about them, and get some formal confirmation that you have made the disclosure — don’t just rely on a phone call to a call centre.
Insurers use a wide range of factors when setting premium levels, one of which is whether a customer has a criminal conviction: so if you don’t tell them this is the case, you could be seen to be committing fraud in order to get cheaper cover.
If you get a conviction while the policy is in force, you do not have to tell your insurer straight away unless the terms and conditions state specifically that you must.
This is rarely the case when it comes to home insurance.
Is your conviction spent?
You don’t normally have to tell insurers about convictions which are spent.
A conviction can be considered spent if the original sentence imposed was less that two-and-a-half years, and if any rehabilitation period has passed.
If you are unsure and need to check whether a conviction has been spent or not, have a look at the UNLOCK website. It will help you work this out based on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
What if you fail to reveal a conviction?
If you don’t reveal material facts such as a conviction when you sign up for insurance, your provider could be within its rights to cancel your policy or turn down any claims you make. Under the new ABI/UNLOCK guidelines, you should be asked during the application process about any unspent convictions, so this, in theory, should not happen.
But if you do have a claim turned down for non-disclosure and you believe the insurer has treated you unfairly, you could take your case to the Financial Ombudsman. (You have to first make a complaint to your insurer, and only take the case to the ombudsman if you are happy with its response.)
If you do complain, be sure to mention the new guidelines and the responsibility of the policy provider to ask customers about convictions to help support your case.