There is a commonly held misconception that those who have HIV are unable to obtain life insurance in the UK, or who feel they should cancel existing products if they are diagnosed. Solicitor Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm that has a proactive approach to LGBT issues and the law, has recently talked about her advice to clients when applying for Life Insurance products in the UK when living with HIV. We share some of this advice here.
Life Insurance is a product that pays out a cash lump sum in the event of your death, payable to your family or those you have nominated.
I already have Life Insurance and have been diagnosed with HIV
A Life Insurance policy can either be purchased individually, or can be a benefit provided through your employer. If you already have Life Insurance through either route, and are subsequently diagnosed with HIV, your insurance product is unlikely to become invalid.
Karen Holden notes that she frequently has clients who have cancelled their policies upon diagnosis, but this is not a necessary step. The majority of Life Insurance contracts in the UK do not have exclusions for any medical conditions, including HIV, if diagnosed after the cover has started and you will continue to be covered. Karen advises that it is also not required for you to update the Life Insurance provider of any new conditions, after taking out the policy, if you keep up the payments and continue the policy it will remain unaffected.
I am HIV positive and I want to purchase Life Insurance
Previous research from Unusual Risks (a leading HIV life insurance and mortgage adviser in the UK) found that only four of the top thirty providers provide life insurance to those who have HIV as a pre-existing condition. It is therefore a commonly held misconception that those who suffer with HIV will be unable to obtain life insurance. That said, those that suffer with the disease should be reassured that appropriate cover is still very much obtainable.
HIV will be treated as any other pre-existing condition so you may see inflated premiums due to the increased risk this condition may pose and you maybe asked for additional medical information. Insurance providers are not allowed to have blanket or general policies of refusing to provide insurance or only providing insurance on certain terms to people living with HIV.
What medical criteria could insurers consider when processing my application?
An insurer’s job is to assess risk and to offer customers the right level of cover at the right price. Insurers will often consider the following criteria during the application process:
- Date of diagnosis
- Any history of drug usage
- History of hepatitis
- Treatment administered
- Vial load
- CD4 count
Medical evidence will therefore be required, and insurers will generally undergo manual underwriting before an application can be approved.
What happens if I do not disclose that I suffer with HIV?
If you know that you are HIV positive and do not disclose this on an application form, this is likely to mean your policy will be invalid and your insurer is then highly unlikely to pay out if you die or need critical illness payments. It is very important that you answer all questions honestly and in a transparent manner with the insurer. Transparency and honesty is key for any insurance regardless of the circumstances and any misdirection or deliberate omission of information will render any policy void.
What legal provisions can I rely upon as someone with HIV seeking insurance?
The Equality Act 2010 applies in England, Wales and Scotland and gives protection to those with a ‘protected characteristic ‘ in relation to employment, education, access to goods, facilities and services as well as in buying or renting land or property.
HIV is a disability and as such a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and you must not be treated discriminatory or less favourably as a result of your HIV status. As such insurers need to have a process and policy that considers all applications in the same way.
Is refusing an application on the basis of an individual’s HIV status a breach of the Equality Act 2010?
Karen Holden notes that the general position is that insurers cannot discriminate based on protected characteristics listed under the Equality Act 2010, and HIV is one of such characteristics. Insurers are therefore unlikely to turn away clients who make an application for life and/or critical illness cover because of their HIV status. They should have a policy that addresses everyone in a non-discriminatory way, in that it will focus on any pre-existing condition being excluded or an uplifted premium is required or a medical review based on a fair and clear risk profile that should be the same for anyone, with a pre-existing condition.
Not all insurers offer appropriate cover and they are not obliged to do so, but there are many insurers who do offer life insurance cover for individuals living with HIV.
Always check the insurers terms carefully and ask questions if uncertain. If its non-discriminatory across all pre-existing conditions then a challenge cannot be made under the Equality Act. However, if you are singled out due to your HIV status and treated less favourably and thus unfairly compared to others this could be potentially a discrimination claim. Ask questions, review the offer and be honest on the application form to ensure you get what you understood was the offer and ensure it will be paid out at the essential time.
For those wanting further information, the Associate of British Insurers have also produced an information booklet about HIV and Life Insurance. If you are unhappy with the way you have been treated by an insurer, you can make a complaint to them directly, and if still not satisfied take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, an independent body which aims to settle complains.
For readers who want to seek legal advice, Karen Holden is a solicitor and founder of A City Law Firm, who provide a range of services focussed on the LGBT community, including for breaches of the Equality Act.