We must ensure clients have appropriate cover, says Silver Travel Advisor managing director Debbie Marshall

Miles Morgan wrote recently in this column about the face-to-face relationship with customers that gives his business an advantage. For the Silver Travel team, one of the most enjoyable parts of taking a stand at retirement shows is spending time listening to the views of a wide variety of older people. It more than makes up for the early starts, the long days on your feet, and paying £10 for a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich. We also gain valuable insights into the challenges of the silver market.

One of the main topics of conversation is finding affordable travel insurance when age and health may not be on your side. We hear similar stories time and again along the lines of: “I was judged to be at risk just because of my date of birth”; “my medical condition wasn’t covered and I had an £11,000 repatriation bill”; “I don’t go abroad any more because of the cost of insurance”; and “I don’t feel the travel insurance industry cares about me now I am over 75”.

Risky business

Insurance is a risky business, and not only for the underwriters: some older people travel without any insurance because they simply can’t find or afford a suitable policy due to long-term illness. This can lead to extreme but not unusual cases, such as an elderly man with terminal cancer who travelled uninsured to see his daughter in New Zealand.

The 2019 Silver Travel Industry survey asked whether respondents had ever had issues obtaining travel insurance. We were dismayed but not entirely surprised to find 31% had been unable to find a policy due to an illness or disability, and 20% found the cost prohibitive.

It’s certainly a challenge for travel insurers. At the Travel Industry Insurance conference in April, I was introduced as the spokesperson for the older generation with a quip from the moderator “and don’t those oldies cost us a fortune?” The odds are indeed stacked against the ‘oldies’. As well as facing a much greater risk of accident, injury or even death on holiday, the high cost of medical care, especially complex treatment and repatriation, push up the premiums for everyone else.

Who’s responsible?

So whose responsibility is it to ensure customers have the right policy for the holiday they are being sold? This subject was raised recently by Alice Hook of Appleby Travel in Cumbria, whose Letter of the Week in this magazine (March 21) told a worrying tale of two elderly clients who were sold an insurance policy with only £500 cancellation cover that proved “hopelessly inadequate” when they had to cancel their holiday due to illness. The clients accepted they hadn’t checked the policy but claimed the phone conversation with the insurer when they booked was long and confusing, was mostly about their medical conditions and the benefits were not explained to them.

The over-50s market is growing and lucrative, but wealth doesn’t necessarily align with health, and there’s a duty of care not only to sell the right kind of holiday, but also to ensure that customers are aware of the importance of purchasing an insurance policy with the appropriate level of cover. There’s no substitute for peace of mind at any age.