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Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday's ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
A.R. writes: On July 12, you featured a reader who had taken out an annual travel insurance policy with the Post Office.
Based on your article, I applied for a pro rata refund on my own policy.
However, the Post Office has replied, contradicting what you wrote.
The Post Office – once a respected presence on every British high street – seems to stagger now from one shameful episode to the next. It refused to admit that its own computer system showed false deficits, so it accused more than 500 staff at sub-post offices of fraud. It prosecuted more than 40 and wrongly convicted them, despite knowing for years that its computerised accounts were defective. And it ended up forking out more than £58million to compensate them.
The scandal of Post Office Travel Insurance policies is small potatoes compared to the ordeal of people the Post Office wrongly sent to prison. But it is another sign of a decaying institution that has lost its way. Since the pandemic struck, I have been swamped by hundreds of letters and emails from readers who are struggling to get refunds from travel companies, and from travel insurers whose policies have turned out to be worthless.
Typically, policies would provide no cover to anyone who travelled against the advice of the Government, so insurers were effectively pocketing premiums with little or no risk of having to meet claims. This applied especially to customers who paid hundreds of pounds for an annual policy that covered them for more than one trip.
So, it was a welcome breath of fresh air in July to be told by the Post Office that it would treat its customers fairly. After weeks of me firing questions at them, here – word for word – is exactly what officials told me: 'The Post Office are pleased to confirm that we now have a solution for our Annual Multi Trip customers, for policies taken out prior to June 17 2020, whereby we can offer a pro rata refund for the unused part of their policy.'
And the Post Office added: 'Having reviewed and made changes to our internal processes, we are pleased to be able to offer this to our existing customers from next week.'
That is what I reported on July 12. But the Post Office's breath of fresh air turned out to stink. Its statement was false. Its promises were as useless as its policies.
Customers who applied for refunds were told that if their annual policy began before January 1, they would not get a penny back. They might have paid at the end of December for a 12-month policy that turned out to be useful only until lockdown in March, but that was just tough luck.
Post Office HQ told staff at its customer contact centre to tell policyholders: 'Please note this guidance is provided by our underwriters and not The Mail on Sunday article.'
In a nutshell, give policyholders the impression that it was my report that got it wrong, and not the false statements from the Post Office itself – a lie built on a lie.
You took out your one-year policy in July 2019. It became useless on March 17 this year, when the Government ruled against foreign travel. You were told that the German companies that underwrite Post Office policies had decided you deserved nothing back.
The Post Office has now weakened slightly and told me that as a gesture of goodwill, it is offering you £26 out of the £178 you paid in premiums, though its arithmetic does look dodgy. Perhaps it is still using the computer program that put its own people in prison.
And grudgingly, the Post Office has confessed to misleading me by promising refunds for all. It admitted: 'At the time, we did not explain to you how the pro rata refund process works in practice.' It blames the fact that 'the summer period was particularly busy for the Post Office'. So busy, apparently, that it could only find time to produce a script telling its staff to blame The Mail on Sunday for its own false statements.
It now says: 'It was a mistake. And we are sorry. We did not provide you with all the information that we should have, and we should not have provided this wording in our script.'
Finally, the Post Office has told me it will take another look at refund claims on policies taken out before January 1 'on a case by case basis'. Would I trust this? No. Would I myself buy a Post Office annual policy? No. Would I recommend this policy to others? No. The Post Office is a puppet, and the puppet masters are its German underwriters. The Post Office stands shamed.
Any post in any other colour is my own responsibility.
I am using an automatic grammar and spelling app, your original post if quoted may be amended by default. No judgement in your use of grammar or spelling is intended or meant.