War veteran Kenneth Brown was stunned when he was repeatedly refused travel insurance for a cruise to Spain – despite the fact that he pilots his own cabin cruiser, Carlos III, on the Thames.
Nowadays the 91-year-old widower uses his boat, moored at the bottom of his garden, only to travel to nearby riverside pubs. But in the past he has sailed the Mediterranean.
Recently he wanted to revisit the Basque region of northern Spain, which he fell in love with during a previous trip, on an organised cruise. But though Kenneth has never made a claim, he was turned down by a dozen insurers.
Charity Age Concern has found that 92 per cent of holiday insurance policies refuse to deal with the over-65s. Retirees must shop around more than any other group for cover and can pay at least four times more in premiums.
Kenneth, who served in the Reconnaissance Corps in the Second World War, says: ‘I must have racked up a million miles of travelling over the years, but I have never made a claim. Being refused on grounds of age is an insult.’ Kenneth, from Staines, Middlesex, eventually found cover with insurer Intune through Help the Aged and paid £60 for cover for a six-day break.
Intune is among the few providers that do not bar customers on grounds of age. Others include Age Concern, Direct Line, Saga, Marks & Spencer and the Post Office.
Kate Topling of Help the Aged says age discrimination may be outlawed in a new Equality Bill, but she fears insurers will still try to avoid offering older people travel insurance deals.
‘For them it is like going shopping on the High Street and finding that most of the store windows display ”no old people allowed” signs,’ she says.
‘We understand there may be greater risks of claiming by the elderly, but to lump everyone together over a certain age is wrong – and it is just plain lazy.’ One way to avoid being ignored by travel insurers is to buy joint household and travel insurance through an independent broker.
The Association of British Insurers defends the industry stance as a prudent measure to avoid price rises hitting everyone. According to its research, holidaymakers aged 65 or over are three times more likely to claim than those aged 35 – and eight times more likely if they are 85 or older.
It also says that the cost of medical insurance for the over-60s is almost three-and-a-half times higher than for the under-50s.
Even those providers that do offer travel insurance to older people charge higher premiums.
For example, Saga charges £18 for an eight-day break in France for a 60-year-old in good health while a healthy 70-year-old will pay £35.
Malcolm Tarling, spokesman for the ABI, says: ‘We think the issue isn’t about who offers insurance but how you can get it. Cover is out there, but it is up to the insurers whether they wish to offer it.’
Anyone taking two trips a year is likely to be better off with an annual policy. A 35-year-old man, for instance, can buy annual UK and European cover for as little as £17.
Policies typically limit each trip to three or four weeks.
Add cover for skiing and the cheapest premiums rise to a modest £30. Annual worldwide cover starts at £26 – or £39 if winter sports are included. Singletrip cover starts at £7 for three weeks in France – or £14 if skiing is included.
Travellers in Europe are covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but only for local medical treatment.