Case study – Misleading statement on an insurance company declaration form

We were recently contacted by an individual who had taken out a home insurance policy and was concerned that he had not fully disclosed his convictions. His confusion had arisen due to a declaration form that he had been sent with his policy documents. This stated:

 

You have confirmed that you, or any person to be insured by this policy, have never been convicted of or cautioned for (or charged but not yet tried with) any criminal offence other than motoring convictions.

 

We reassured the individual that whilst it was difficult to prevent an insurer asking an open question about convictions, an applicant has the legal right to answer in the negative in respect of any spent convictions.

We contacted the insurer to point out that under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, individuals were only required to disclose unspent convictions and therefore, in our opinion, the declaration could be considered misleading.

Having received no response from the insurer, we felt that we had no option other than to raise our concerns with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

The ICO investigated the matter and confirmed that in their opinion the insurance company had not contravened the Data Protection Act. They believed that as the declaration was merely used to confirm the details that an applicant had provided to them, there was no evidence that they had processed this data in a way which did not comply with the Data Protection Act.

The insurance company had explained to the ICO that only unspent convictions were taken into account and recorded. If an individual were to disclose a spent conviction in error, this would always be disregarded.

However, the ICO felt that the declaration could lead to individuals doubting the information they needed to provide and the ICO suggested that they may wish to consider improving the wording in their declaration form to avoid any confusion.

The insurer has offered to provide enhanced training to all its front-line staff to ensure they are aware of the differences between spent and unspent convictions. However, they did not feel that they were able to devote the time or money to improving the wording on their declaration form.

We are continuing to work on this case to seek improvements in the wording of the declaration.

Lessons

This case demonstrates how organisations may believe that they are doing the right thing in practice (for example only taking into account unspent convictions) but, if they don’t have very clear questions and declarations in place, then this can cause confusion and could lead individuals to over-disclose.

Links

Notes about this case study

This case study relates to Unlock’s work with organisations.

Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

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