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When my hon. Friend makes the regulations, will he do us a favour? Will he come back to the Chamber and get us on board? Will he tell us what he is doing, and
how he is updating and altering the regulations under the Bill? He knows that much latitude has been given to the new regulatory body. Although we all wish it well, it will not do some things. It will be reticent to tackle some matters, and it may need a little pressure to deliver. If my hon. Friend can come back and convince us, perhaps we can give him the authority to exert that pressure to deliver for the right peoplethe patients. I wish him well.
That the draft Statutory Auditors (Delegation of Functions etc) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.
That the draft Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.
That the draft County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 8th January, be approved.
That the draft Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 8th January, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 8th January, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 13043/07, 13045/07, 13212/07, 13219/07, 13046/07, 13048/07 and 13049/07 on regulation of electricity and gas supply and transmission networks and cross-border electricity and gas networks; further notes the Governments support for the European Commissions proposals for further legislation on the internal energy market; agrees that adoption of the measures would make a major contribution to the development of competition in the sector across the EU; and supports the Governments intention to press in the negotiations for the powers of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators to be strengthened. [Mr. Blizzard. ]
Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck) (Lab): I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me the debate. The case that I am raising relates to an individual constituent, Mrs. Susan Hurrell, who I believe has been the victim of a major injustice at the hands of Scottish Provident. I do so with her agreement and the issue is not subject to any form of legal proceedings. I shall briefly explain the unfortunate series of events that led up to the debate.
Mrs. Hurrell came to see me at my Friday surgery in January 2007. I was so concerned by what she told me that, in an attempt to resolve the issue, I wrote to Scottish Provident, offering to meet its representatives. Unfortunately, for reasons best known to themselves, they chose not to take up that offer. Since my initial letter of January 2007, numerous additional letters from my constituent and from me have not brought about a satisfactory and just resolution. Unfortunately, referring the case to the ombudsman also failed to bring about the desired result.
In October 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Hurrell took out a life assurance mortgage policy. Sadly, some 14 months later, in December 2004, Mrs. Hurrell was diagnosed as being terminally ill with stage 3 category C ovarian cancer. She was told that she had only a few months to live. Once my constituent and her husband had come to terms with the shock of that, they contacted Scottish Provident by telephone to inform them of Mrs. Hurrells medical condition and to request a claim form. Their first telephone contact with Scottish Provident was made in December 2004, and they were extremely surprised to be informed that they did not have terminal illness cover and that it would not be possible for them to make a claim except in the event of death. They were both devastated by that advice, as they were convinced that the cover was an important part of the policy. I am sure that that undoubtedly added to the worry and distress that they were already suffering.
A few weeks later, in January 2005, Mr. Hurrell telephoned Scottish Provident to check that the information he had been given was correct. They were again advised that it was not possible for them to make a claim as they did not have terminal illness cover. It is worth noting at this juncture that the telephone calls made in both December 2004 and January 2005 were made well within the 13-week claim period allowed to submit a claim. If Scottish Provident had accepted at that stage that Mrs. Hurrell had terminal illness cover, the claim could have been submitted, considered and determined. In the words of Mrs. Hurrell:
As Scottish Provident is a reputable company, we took this advice as correct and did not question it further.
Some 20 months after Mrs. Hurrell was diagnosed as being terminally ill, she and her husband received a letter from their mortgage company about the renewal of their mortgage protection plan. Mrs. Hurrell contacted the company, advising it that she would require a quotation without her name on the policy. Understandably, she
was asked why she did not want her name to be on it. When she explained her circumstances, the staff member at the mortgage company was surprised and, having checked the policy, advised her that she was indeed covered for terminal illness and should contact Scottish Provident immediately.
On 19 September 2006, Mrs. Hurrell rang Scottish Provident about the advice given in December 2004 and January 2005. The lady to whom she spoke was extremely apologetic about the advice, and said that she would send a claim form without delay. She then asked Mrs. Hurrell when she had been diagnosed. Having given the date of the diagnosis, Mrs. Hurrell was told, Sorry, you are too late. You had to die within the first 12 months. Apart from anything else, that was a terribly callous statement. However on 23 September 2006, Mrs. Hurrell received a letter from Scottish Provident apologising for the incorrect advice and confirming that terminal illness cover was included in death benefit. Enclosed in the letter was a claim form and a request that it be returned along with the original policy document. If the claim could then proceed, Scottish Provident would contact the relevant doctors.
After numerous letters from Scottish Provident indicating that it was awaiting a response from Mrs. Hurrells consultant, a further letter arrived on 5 January 2007 notifying Mrs. Hurrell of the failed outcome of her terminal illness claim. It stated:
Our definition of terminal illness against which your claim was assessed requires that life expectancy is no greater than twelve months.
I can confirm that when Mrs. Hurrell originally presented to us with her diagnosis of ovarian cancer she was in a desperate condition requiring emergency surgery, following which she had a number of severe complications. Her life expectancy at that time was certainly less than twelve months.
To me it is abundantly clear that when she made the initial contact with Scottish Provident in December 2004 and January 2005, Susans condition was such that she met the requirements of the policy: that is, life expectancy was no greater than 12 months. Consequently, in my opinion she should have been paid in full.
Susan wrote complaining about the decision, and received a response on 23 January 2007 telling her that she had not informed the company within the required 13-week period, and that the medical information did not support her claim. Given that Scottish Provident had written to her four months earlier apologising for the fact that she had been given incorrect advice about terminal illness cover, it seems strange that it should now say that she had not informed it within 13 weeks. In fact, she had informed it twice. The letter from Mr. Naik, her consultant, was devastatingly clear: she would not survive for 12 months. How can the company possibly claim that there is no medical evidence to support the claim?
The chief medical officer for Scottish Provident said that, in any event, the company would have waited to discover the outcome of the surgery and chemotherapy before deciding whether to meet the claim. Surely the main reason for taking out terminal illness cover is to enable people to put their finances in order before they
die, and payment should consequently be made as soon as the prognosis of life expectancy of less than 12 months has been delivered. If it was normal practice to defer an assessment of terminal illness until after the response to chemotherapy was known, the company was in effect waiting for a person to die within the 12 months before paying out. Why on earth then are people paying the extra for terminal illness cover? If the company is delaying claims of that nature by more than 12 months, it is doing so deliberately to deny customers their rightful payments. It would be interesting to know how often Scottish Provident has applied that practice, and how many claimants have been denied terminal illness payments as a result. It is worth noting also that the basis of Mrs. Hurrells claim was the medical assessment of Mr. Naik, who is an eminent consultant. The basis of Scottish Providents case is not what it did, but what it said it might have done at the time; it is based purely on hindsight. If the claim had been accepted, Mr. and Mrs. Hurrell would have been entitled to receive a lump sum benefit of £60,000. Instead, she was offered £150 for her distress and inconvenience.
Subsequently, Mrs. Hurrell sought the assistance of the financial services ombudsman. Unfortunately, that was without success, as the adjudicator concluded that she could not recommend that the complaint be upheld. As part of her findings, the adjudicator stated:
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