Taking the hassle out of insurance claims !
Help With Car Insurance Claims
Ever since his early participation on 3AW Talkback Radio programs as the ‘Insurance Watchdog’, and as a journalist for the ‘Out & About Newspaper’; John Pennant, the Director of JP Auto Group Pty Ltd, has had a broad and continuing interest in not letting insurance companies trample over the rights of consumers in car accident related claims. Taking a stand on this, he has continually spoken out on insurance issues, fighting the good fight ever since.
He brings this wealth of inside knowledge to his business where, as a free value adding service, he provides information on how to avoid insurance traps & effectively pursue insurance claims, with the aim of clients receiving all that their policy entitles them.
As part of its accident repair service, at no further charge, JP also offers to handle client paperwork associated with car insurance claims & settlements, including any necessary liaison with insurance companies or independent assessors. If necessary it can also act as a mediator in disputes, or recommend legal firms that specialise in vehicle accidents.
JP is aware of the vast majority of tactics that can be used by insurers to delay claims or minimise claim payouts, and keeps a continual eye out for its clients !
For examples of JP’s advocacy on insurance issues please click here.
Insurance Claim Tips from JP
Keep a diary of all accident and insurance related events. In particular note down who you talked to and the significant points in what they said. Also note down for reference how long you may be holding on the phone in each contact. Per this last point, if later, the matter is disputed, you may gain some advantage or sympathy if it obvious you are being stuffed around.
Don’t delay in reporting an accident, as generally you will have an obligation to keep costs down within reason, and if a delay on your part leads to further costs you may not be covered for any worsening of the situation.
When dealing with insurers try to put things in writing rather than just talking over the phone. If a commitment is made on the telephone and you think you may later need to rely on that commitment, then follow up with an email repeating what was said verbally and confirming your understanding of any commitments that were made by the insurer. In such emails ask the insurer to clarify the situation in writing if they disagree with your assessment of the phone call. Do not rely on any recordings the insurer may have made, as in our experience they are unlikely to willingly provide you with a copy.
Consider making your own recording of conversations with insurers by placing the phone on loudspeaker and then recording the call with a separate non connected voice recorder. Such recordings can sometimes be used as evidence in court though you may not legally be able to use them for other things or let others listen to them. However be aware that it is generally illegal to electronically tap into the phone directly for recording without the other person’s consent.
Take your own digital photos of the damaged vehicle before you give it to a repairer so you have your own independent record of the initial state of the vehicle. Ideally take photos from a distance of 7 feet as well as close up of the damage and get both front and side on photos.
Be aware that some repairers will deliberately underquote then raise their prices after they start, so watch out for this when choosing a repairer. However, it is generally considered legitimate to make an additional charge where within reason something is not evident up front ie. where something can only be seen after the car is taken apart or is not otherwise reasonable to identify from an initial inspection. In vehicle accident repairs, usually only an estimate is given initially as a final price is often not able to be determined until a repairer has an opportunity to at least itemise the steps of the repair and ring around to get prices for parts. This takes time, and costs the repairer, hence most repairers provide only a basic estimate up front.
Choice of Repairer
Keep in mind that normally you can choose any repairer to fix your car. You generally don’t have to use a particular repairer that is recommended or endorsed by an insurance company, notwithstanding such insurance companies may lead you to believe otherwise, and will often strongly push you to one of that insurer’s preferred repairers.
Be aware, when choosing, that insurers will generally refer you to a repairer who will be cheapest for them rather than one that provides a better service but charges more. In this respect, keep in mind that simple business economics means that where a repairer quotes cheap or underquotes they will generally do the minimum necessary to meet the (insurers) requirements and they may cut corners which you may be unaware of and which may only become apparent a year or two down the track. These insurer “recommended” repairers’ generally depend on the insurer’s goodwill for ongoing work and when push comes to shove it is our experience that they will generally support the insurer over car owners, including when making decisions on such things as the need for new parts or old and when deciding what to cover as accident damage in situations where the extent of accident related damage is difficult to prove.
The cheaper repairers are also more likely to have less ability to pay for good staff and equipment, and have less of a margin to absorb any mistakes they might make. For this reason our advice is to always choose a repairer which holds itself out as being independent of the insurance companies.
In choosing, always consider researching the internet to see what others are saying about the proposed repairer before making a decision.
- your vehicle will be repaired quickly
- only qualified tradespeople will work on the vehicle minimising the risk of later problems due to poor workmanship
- your vehicle will be repaired with new parts or at least with reputable second hand parts
- your vehicle will be kept secure while being repaired, preferably undercover, and not left out on the street at night where it may be at risk of additional damage or theft
- your vehicle will be accessible if you need to get something out of it while it is being repaired
- your vehicle will be immediately given back to you as soon as the repairs are complete or whether it will stay in the repairers possession until final payment for the repair is made (which could take weeks or months)
Also see whether the repairer will offer anything extra to minimise your inconvenience out of good customer service, such as:
- complimentary pick up or drop off of your vehicle
- complimentary cleaning or detailing
- providing a temporary car while your car is being fixed
- discounts for any towing or other service done at the same time as the main insurance covered repair
- flexibility in trading hours eg. work outside normal office hours so as to make it easy to come in to discuss any problems or needs face to face with the vehicle in front of you for reference
Whether to make a Claim on Your Own Insurance
Check your financial position carefully when dealing with insurers. Don’t jump into a car insurance claim without thinking the situation through carefully. Don’t let yourself get pushed into something you are not sure of.
If you do proceed to lodge a car insurance claim on your own insurance policy or are talking to another party’s insurer about an accident involving your vehicle be very very careful with what words you describe the accident events as you will generally be held to this and any later inconsistencies may lead to the claim being denied or significantly delayed. It does happen ! A good idea might be to write down the events as dot points before talking to the insurer to avoid any confusion or inconsistencies.
Where an accident is another person’s fault, unless they are not insured, you will almost always be financially better off seeking the cost of repairs direct from that other person or their insurer, even though it may be easier or faster to just make a claim on your own comprehensive insurance policy (if you have one). In this regard there are often significant hidden or indirect costs when you claim on your own policy.
For instance, if your car is a write off and you make the claim on your policy you may lose the balance of your car registration to the insurer. If you pay your insurance by monthly instalments in some cases the insurer may also be able to force you to pay out the balance of the full annual insurance policy amount (even though this may not yet be due) before they will pay out the claim. In such a case you might be out hundreds of dollars for as yet unpaid premium payments, and, in addition, the insurer might then also keep the balance of your car registration which might total hundreds more when cancelled. In comparison, if you had the other person’s insurer cover the accident damage under their insurance, normally you yourself could cancel the remainder your insurance policy and vehicle registration, with all refunds then coming to you.
Under your own policy you are also commonly far more limited in what you can claim eg. under your own policy there may be no entitlement to receive a replacement hire car while your car is being fixed, or there may be other restrictions, perhaps capping payouts to totally unrealistic amounts.
You might also lose no claim bonuses or have your insurance premiums increase. In this, don’t assume that just because your insurer states that you have a rating one for life, or something similar, that your premium won’t still go up, as they generally do when a car insurance claim is made, irrespective of the actual rating level.
Insurers Often Have Multiple Trading Names
Its worth noting that many insurers’ trade under multiple names, so both you and a person who crashes into you, may ultimately be insured by the same insurer even though the names and details of the policies may vary. Where this happens there can be even more of a conflict of interest on the part of the insurer than is normally the case. While such situations can lead to faster and smoother processing of claims, it can significantly increase the risk that claims may be manipulated to place the insurer’s interests above yours, so as to minimise their required payout.
Such things are most likely to happen in disputes where the ‘other person’ is at fault ie. in what are known as 3rd party claims. Where your insurer is in a dispute with another person or insurer, they normally fight to get those others to shoulder the costs resulting from an accident so they don’t have to. In this they have a common interest with their customer (you), and accordingly they take steps to protect your entitlements. However where they are the one who has insured all sides of a dispute there is far less of an incentive to protect one particular customer’s interests over another’s and more of an incentive to minimise the overall claim cost to them, or to otherwise discourage aspects of potential claims that might result in increased costs to them.
In JP’s experience, knowledge that they are actually the insurer for both parties is commonly not disclosed in such situations, and customers are more often encouraged to settle for less than they may otherwise be entitled to. In particular, where costs are difficult to substantiate or are subject to interpretation it is JP’s experience that insurers will generally read these in their own favour, and not advise customers of information that might cause them to otherwise seek an increased payout.
The bottom line is that just because a company is “your” insurer you should not assume that they will act in your best interest.
Similarly, if you are dissatisfied with an insurer’s customer service and decide to make a change, check to make sure the apparent new insurer you sign up with is actually a different company !
Two examples where companies operate under multiple names are AAI Ltd and IAG Ltd.
As at 7 July 2014, according to their websites, while policy criteria may vary substantially, car insurance policies marketed under the following companies, trading names and/or brands, are all ultimately either owned or issued by AAI Ltd:
- Vero Insurance
Similarly, as at 7 July 2014, according to their websites, car insurance policies marketed under the following trading names and/or brands, are all ultimately either owned or issued by IAG Ltd:
- RACV Insurance (70% owned by IAG Ltd & 30% owned by RACV via their ownership in Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd)
- NRMA Insurance (co-owned by IAG Ltd and NRMA)
- Coles (From 2014)
- Wesfarmers (From 2014)
- Lumley (from 2014)
JP’s 2016 Car Insurer Recommendations include:
* In JP’s view, Lumley & CGU while both owned by IAG Ltd, generally have more flexible car insurance policies & seem to operate more professionally, than operations conducted under some of the other insurance brands associated with IAG Ltd
## JP receives no remuneration, benefit, or kickback of any kind for any of its car insurer recommendations. Nor does JP refer clients to particular car insurers or provide financial advice. Recommendations are based solely on JPs review of the insurer’s policies & performance in car accident related insurance claims of which JP has knowledge. The recommendations do not imply any guarantee of quality in a particular instance and JPs recommendations will vary from year to year
Insurance Web Links
The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)
# The FOS is the primary organisation which deals with complaints about car insurers, and offers a free & effective dispute resolution service. FOS is not a government organisation, but it is genuinely independent, and has been set up under the auspices of ASIC. It administers the General Insurance Code of Practice which sets out the minimum standards by which insurers must operate.
The really interesting thing about FOS is that it is industry self funded. This means that normally for every complaint they get about an insurer FOS charges the insurer a fee. This fee is often in the hundreds of dollars per case if there is any substance to the complaint, and so it acts as a very effective deterrent in stopping car insurers from acting carelessly or poorly, or otherwise stuffing their clients around. JP has found that usually if you complain to FOS about an insurance problem (where you are the client) the insurer will address the problem very quickly.
Unfortunately, at the moment, it doesn’t always help where the problem is the ‘other person’s insurer’ but JP and others are working hard on this, lobbying the government for needed regulatory changes to make 3rd party insurers more accountable. Stay tuned to JP’s website to see whether anything comes of this. Alternatively if you also feel strongly about such issues, then please also write to FOS and the organisations below to voice your concerns ! The more people who write in, the stronger the pressure on the government to do something about it !
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC)
# ASIC is the Federal Government Department which regulates the conduct of the car insurance industry as it relates to consumer transactions. They are responsible for compliance with the Insurance Contracts Act and for the non ‘prudential’ obligations of car insurance companies in their capacity as Financial Service Providers under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 (The ‘ASIC Act’). They are primarily interested in systemic insurance industry problems, professional misconduct, and regulatory offences committed by insurers. They generally will not directly assist consumers to gain individual monetary redress in relation to claims though their investigations may provoke the insurer to resolve issues or offer redress. Compliance action they take might also lead consumers to feel better or vindicated in relation to disputes.
If you feel that a car insurer has contravened their legislative responsibilities you should make reference to that provision in your correspondence. In this regard some key provisions of the legislation administered by ASIC include:
Section 13 – Insurance Contracts Act 1984 – The insurers obligation to act with the ‘utmost good faith’
Part 2 Division 2 and particularly Sections 12CA and 12CB of the ASIC Act – The insurers obligation not to act ‘unconscionably’ (this is complicated to explain but broadly, in plain English, this means to not unfairly use its disproportionate influence to take extreme advantage of someone). Section 12CC ASIC Act explains some of the considerations that are looked at with these provisions.
Section 12BB ASIC Act – Misleading Representations With Respect to Future Matters
Section 12DA ASIC Act – Misleading or Deceptive Conduct
Section 12DB ASIC Act – False or Misleading Representations
Section 12DJ ASIC Act – Harassment and Coercion
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) administer the Competition & Consumer Act 2010. This is the law that replaced the old Trade Practices Act. They are responsible for the overall regulation of general business transactions including in relation to consumer transactions. However, they are also responsible for ensuring businesses do not engage in anti competitive practices including what are known as illegal ‘exclusive dealing’ arrangements or ‘full line forcing’ or ‘third line forcing’ practices. In relation to car insurance claims this means they can take action where insurance companies try to force a customer to use a particular repairer. Such behaviour (with a few exceptions) is generally illegal and if an insurer is found guilty of such conduct it can ultimately result in very large fines being imposed. This is important to consumers and businesses as it relates to your freedom to choose a repairer you are confident will do the repair properly and not cut corners.
If you feel that a car insurer is telling you you have no choice but to use their repairer, or is using clearly unreasonable pressure to push you into using their ‘recommended repairer’ you can lodge a complaint to the ACCC at :
or call the ACCC on 1300 302 502.
# If you feel that an insurer has acted in this way & wish to lodge a complaint with the ACCC on this basis, then in your correspondence you should make sure that you refer to your belief that s.47 Competition & Consumer Act 2010 had been contravened in this regard.
The Australian Treasurer, Scott Morrison, is the Minister responsible for ASIC, including for the regulation of insurers.
# Writing to the Treasurer about a car insurance issue would generally be seen as a last resort where other avenues of redress did not succeed. The Minister would normally be concerned with issues affecting the overall insurance industry or extreme miscarriages of justice eg. extreme situations which seem to ‘fall between the cracks’. Most correspondence to the Treasurer about car insurance matters affecting only a single individual would likely be referred either to FOS or to ASIC.
The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Po Box 6022
Canberra ACT 2600
The Insurance Council of Australia
# The Insurance Council is the peak industry body representing the insurance industry in Australia. The Insurance Council is primarily an association for representing the interests of insurance companies, but in this regard it seeks to improve the insurance industry and promote professional standards for its members. In this way it may take action eg. through training & education of its members, to address systemic insurance issues which are drawn to its attention. However, it does not generally concern itself with individual insurance disputes.
Talk Back Radio – For Raising Any Car Insurance Issues of Concern
To hear what others have to say about their experiences with a particular insurer just plug the insurer’s name into one of the following forum search engines :