New age discrimination laws for insurers

Equalities minister Harriet Harman has unveiled the first draft of the Equalities Bill that says that insurers should no longer be allowed to make it difficult for older people to take out health and travel insurance.

On travel, insurers have been warned for the last two years that they unfairly discriminate against older travellers. So it is amusing to see insurers and their trade body react as if it were all a sudden shock.

Campaigners have long argued that prejudice based on age is widespread. Insurers deny they are unfair in their policies, arguing that they do not discriminate against older people, but simply take account of risk. However, groups such as Help the Aged challenge that. They say so-called risk assessments are often not founded on sound evidence, but instead involve arbitrary cut-off points and flawed assumptions.

Insurers will still assume that older people are more likely to claim. Some may withdraw policies or bump up prices for all age groups. The ABI threatens that insurers will withdraw policies for older people, which is as ridiculous as a football team refusing to play as they don’t like new rules.

With hundreds of health insurances and thousands of travel insurances around, a few insurers withdrawing from those markets will make no difference.

Insurers will not be allowed to put age limits on policies and just offer them for younger people.

Insurers will not be allowed to charge higher prices to older people.

Charity Help the Aged calls for the legislation to be enacted without delay. Director general Michael Lake says: “'For a long time the government would not accept that age discrimination was a problem... legislation must be enacted without delay so older people can be on a truly equal footing as soon as possible.”

Other new rules in the Equalities Bill could accentuate the growing numbers of people working beyond the current retirement age of 65.

Many protection products, income protection for example, currently end at around age 65, but insurers will have to look more and more at 71 plus in the years to come. It could lead to an overhaul in the protection market.

Research conducted by Zurich suggests 64% of Britons are considering carrying on working after retirement. Tony Solomon, business development director at Zurich, says: “As life expectancy continues to rise and the amount of time people spend in retirement increases, many people are re-evaluating how they will spend their retirement.”

The proposals are to be adopted across England, Wales and Scotland.

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