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Pensioner hit by insurance hike

A PENSIONER was distraught after a pet insurance company hiked the monthly premium for her dog by a staggering 100% and dismissed her concerns with the explanation that premiums had risen because a number of pet owners had actually made claims for their pets’ treatment.
Recently widowed Mrs Primrose Reichel, 74, from Wealdstone, Hertfordshire contacted OUR DOGS’ Chief Reporter Nick Mays after she received her revised insurance premium demand from Norwich Union Insurance for her eight year-old Golden Retriever Becky earlier this month. She was shocked to see that the premium had leapt from £25.95 to £50.95 – a 100% increase, with no prior notice.

Fighting back tears, Prim explained that she had been ‘totally thrown’ by the demand and said that only explanation she’d had from a Norwich Union customer care officer was that all premiums had gone up ‘across the board’, adding that the amount was not negotiable.

‘What upset me the most was that they just landed this demand on me, saying that from September, they expected £50.95 a month instead of £25.95,’ said Prim. ‘My husband died just six weeks ago and I’ve not been feeling so very well – this was almost the final straw. I have to cope on a pension of just over £138 – how they expected me to pay the new premium is beyond me.

‘I’ve never made a claim for Becky, she’s been in good health and my premiums have always been paid on time, without fail. Then to just turn round and say "Oh, everyone’s premiums are going up" is a terrible way to treat a loyal customer.’

Mrs Reichel and her late husband Erich had owned many dogs over the years, including GSDs, Great Danes and Newfoundlands. They acquired Becky, an ex-show dog, from Breed rescue six years ago when she was three years old. They insured her through the Kennel Club’s ‘Pet Partners’ insurance scheme. The original policy, underwritten by Axa, had insured the couple along with Becky, but this changed later when Norwich Union became Pet Partner’s underwriters. Becky’s premium was set at £25.95 and was paid on time each month by the couple. Becky has enjoyed good health and is now aged 8 and a half.

Mrs Reichel said that she didn’t know what to do and was worried that she would be unable to insure Becky, as she could not afford the premium on her single person’s pension. OUR DOGS came to the rescue, when Nick Mays referred her to two other leading pet insurers, Pet Plan and Tesco pet Insurance.

A delighted Mrs Reichel told OUR DOGS: ‘Norwich Union’s loss is Tesco’s gain. They have offered me an excellent premium which I will be taking up right away. Needless to say I will cancel my plan with Norwich Union and will recommend Tesco Pet Insurance to all my friends.’

Sally Leeman from Norwich Union investigated Mrs Reichel’s policy demand and told OUR DOGS: ‘Unfortunately we have had to increase pet insurance premiums generally due to the rising cost of claims and this is the main reason for the increase Mrs Reichel has seen in her premium.
‘The age of the dog also affects the calculation of the premium and the fact that Mrs Reichel's dog is now 8 is another factor taken into consideration. We are writing to Mrs Reichel to explain the reasons we have had to increase her insurance premium.

‘The Lifelong Policy Mrs Reichel has is offered at 12 months cover for the price of 10 months and will provide insurance cover throughout the dog's life for as long as the policy is continued.
‘I would just like to confirm that pet insurance premiums have not been impacted by the recent floods.’

Mrs Reichel added: ‘I’m aware that from time to time premiums have to rise along with the cost of living, but it’s a poor show to make such a huge hike in all pet insurance premiums across the board, simply because some pet owners actually make a claim for their pets. This is how insurance works – I’ve paid hundreds of pounds to Norwich Union in premiums over the years and have made no claim – now I am being penalised because some pet owners have had the temerity in Norwich Union’s eyes to actually use their insurance and make claims. I’d expected a rise in my premium, maybe to something like £30, but such a huge increase is simply not justified.’

A spokesperson for the Kennel Club defended Norwich Union’s rise in premiums as part of the KC’s Pet partners insurance scheme saying: ‘At the time of joining, this customer was put on the usual fixed rate policy, the policy system has now changed and takes into account each individual circumstance, including the breed of the dog, the age of the dog, as well as the postcode of the address of the owner.

‘These variable factors are taken into consideration for everybody, and are reflected in what each different customer has to pay. This particular customer’s dog is about to turn 9, which means the dog is now in a new policy bracket, which is also why there has been an increase in their premium.’

Mrs Reichel advised all pet owners to ‘shop around’ for the best deal on pet insurance. She also said that she was very pleased that she had phoned OUR DOGS for help that day, praising Mays and the newspaper for their help.

‘I was in pieces when I received that demand, but Mr Mays spoke so kindly to me and calmed me down, then pointed me in the right direction to find a better deal, so ultimately some good came out of a bad situation. My late husband and I have been readers of OUR DOGS for many years and this just goes to show what a great paper it is. I will always be grateful to Mr Mays and OUR DOGS for their help.’

Earlier this month, Norwich Union, which is the UK's biggest home insurer, announced its intention to raise its premiums by 10%, in a move that will affect one in five homeowners.

The announcement came the day after the insurer's parent company Aviva announced it was facing a £340m bill from the recent flooding in Yorkshire and Gloucestershire in June and July.
However, Norwich Union insisted the increase was not just a result of the floods, but something that was ‘already on the cards’ following a decade in which premiums have remained broadly unchanged.

‘This is not just because of the recent flooding, but also reflects the higher cost of repairing homes generally,’ a spokeswoman said.

‘People tend to have more bathrooms, which means a greater risk of damage from water leaks, and they are using more expensive materials for home improvements, which means an increased cost for repairs.’