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A change of lifestyle

I think this is the most important document on life insurance underwriting in the last 10 years.”

That is the verdict of Pinkfinance.com editor Chris Morgan on the forthcoming ABI consultation paper, which will reconsider the questions that insurers ask about a policyholder&#39s sexual history, orientation and HIV status.

Morgan is helping to represent the gay community in the negotiations surrounding the finalisation of the document, ahead of publication this autumn.

Morgan says: “At the very least, it is important simply because the existing guidelines have not been rewritten in nearly 10 years and were last updated in 1997.”

According to Pinkfinance.com, under the current rules any male classified single who applies for life insurance is still likely to be asked to respond to a so-called “lifestyle” questionnaire. These questions are designed to establish whether the customer belongs to one of the Government recognised high-risk groups for HIV, including homosexuals, bisexuals, intravenous drug users, haemophiliacs, recipients of blood products during medical treatment received outside the UK and sexual partners of the above groups.

A present for HIV testing, clients must only give details if they have tested positive.

If a customer states they are homosexual or bisexual, some companies may ask for the prospective policyholder to take an HIV test, as well as ask a further set of highly personal questions relating to sexual behaviour, monogamy, sexually transmitted diseases and even partners&#39 sexual behaviour.

This is most likely if the sum assured is over £100,000. Pinkfinance.com says life offices have also approached GPs for information relating to lifestyle and sexuality. This can be speculative and can be used unfairly by underwriters.

It is just this sort of practice that campaigners hope any new rules that result from the consultation will stamp out. The Terrence Higgins Trust is an Aids and HIV charity that has been working closely with the ABI on the imminent consultation document.

THT campaigns manager Martin Kirk says: “We would like to see the removal of some of the more speculative questioning of gay men specifically, for example, where doctors have been asked for their opinion of their patient&#39s sexual history which is not at all scientific.”

Kirk says insurers&#39 frameworks for gathering information urgently need to reflect the advances made in HIV medicine since the 1990s which must be factored into actuarial assumptions. He says: “Medicine has come on leaps and bounds since the rules were first written.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust says that it is impossible to get away from the fact that certain groups are at higher risk but it should be possible to mitigate this so that all gay men are not lumped together under the same assumptions.

The dilemma will be finding questions and terms which customers consider appropriate and feel are fair without overstepping the line and asking quest-ions that could be classed as discriminatory.

Kirk says: “It is a very fine line. For example, you probably would not dream of asking a heterosexual couple if their relationship is monogamous so why it is legitimate to ask a homosexual couple?”

ABI head of health Richard Walsh says: “Should those in the same higher-risk groups be assessed on the same premium? Probably not. We are looking to find ways of placing those in higher-risk groups on that spectrum of risk by asking the right questions.”

The ABI says the consultation is wide open and that no elements are a done deal. It says it wants IFAs to be closely involved and it hopes to issue a consumers&#39 guide about what kind of information an insurer can ask under the new best practice rules.

The definitions of risk on HIV and how it is assessed is likely to become more sophisticated and more empirical, meaning IFAs may have to enquire even more closely into the details of clients&#39 private lives.

Informed Choice managing director Nick Bamford says: “It may just be because I have been doing this for 30 years but I no longer feel any embarrassment when I come to this part of the conversation. I take quite a hard stance – insurance is all about risk, so remember it is right and proper that customers should disclose material facts which are likely to have an impact on underwriting decisions.

“I think the best thing to do is to tell the client beforehand, when discussing life policies, that they will be asked to respond honestly to some private and confidential questions.”

Bamford recommends that advisers might want to give the client the sensitive part of the paperwork to fill in themselves. Clients should be reminded that they must respond in good faith or a claim could be thrown out.

He says when advising any couple, sensitivity and the flexibility to fill out this part of the policy themselves might avoid any embarrassing situations where in the adviser could, for example, expose an infidelity.

Kirk says: “The first and overriding principle is to take each and every case on an individual basis. Gay men should not be thought of as one category which automatically generates assumptions about HIV and risk.”

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