Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about some of the insurance companies in Spain pressuring, and using what many would see as underhand methods, to coerce expats into renewing their buildings insurance policies, even though they have been cancelled. I have been surprised by the number of emails that I have received about this issue. A far larger group of expats have felt intimidated by insurance companies, both in Spain as well as other European countries, than I initially imagined.
In some cases, policyholders failed to understand, through both language and cultural factors, that most Spanish insurance companies require at least one month’s notice of intention to terminate an insurance policy. Despite doing this, I have heard from many expats who have written to cancel, telephoned, emailed and sent faxes, only to find that their bank account has been debited for the amount of the renewal premium, and that their instructions to cancel the policy have been ignored.
Peter in the Costa Blanca emailed me to say that as well as writing and faxing his insurance company one month before the policy was due to expire, the insurance company took the money from his bank account. Peter contacted the bank and received a refund, but the insurance company is still pestering him for a full one year of premiums, which he continues to refuse to pay. Peter makes the comment that “I’m sure it is only expats who are targeted in this way. From what I hear from Spanish friends, they would simply ignore it.”
It is not always this easy though, as Sarah and George from Tenerife will testify. This elderly couple have been plagued with endless telephone calls each morning and most evenings for the last two months. The calls are in “machine gun Spanish”, and the couple find it difficult to understand what is being said, other than the demand that they pay 420 euros for a policy that they no longer want. The couple are becoming so anxious about the calls that they are about to change their telephone number.
Another expat, Crystal, from Murcia, told me about her insurance company who demanded her bank details, despite preferring to pay cash at the local office. As well as later taking money from her bank account without prior notification, the company refused to cancel the policy even though Crystal had taken out a new policy with another company. The company’s response was that in the case of a claim, Crystal could choose which company to claim from! Crystal was the only expat that I have heard from who took the time and trouble to contact the Insurance Ombudsman who is supposed to help to resolve disputes between insurance companies and clients. Sadly, the Ombudsman didn't reply to Crystal’s complaint.
I was even more concerned to receive an email from Godfrey, another reader in the Costa Blanca, who told me that he was so afraid of the letters that he had received, he paid the company even though he didn't need the policy. “I have always tried to do the right thing in Spain. I do my best to obey the law and to fit in. I was worried that they might take me to court and, because of Brexit, I would lose my right to live in Spain”.
In the original article, I had intended to include a list of ‘Saints and Sinners’ on the ‘Expat Survival’ website, based on recommendations and complaints from expats. I had not realised that some of the companies that I thought would be on the ‘Saints’ list have actually treated expats very badly. Indeed, it seems that most Spanish insurance companies are behaving badly, and in these circumstances, it is very hard to produce a ‘Saints’ list with any confidence.
As the previous article explains, situations where companies remove money from your bank account are easy to rectify. Simply go to your bank and ask them to revoke the transaction. You have 45 days to do this and it is a simple procedure. The issue is more complicated when the insurance company claims not to have received your instructions to cancel. Although it is a question of their word against yours, lack of evidence in the form of a receipt from the post office, confirmation of fax etc. makes it highly likely that the insurance company will continue to harass their client through letters and phone calls until the unfortunate expat pays up. Many expats simply pay up because of fear. In most cases, my best advice is to ignore the phone calls and letters, and it will eventually go away.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney