When 17-year-old Katya Katalinic went to Kenya with her mother and two brothers just before Christmas last year, she believed the world was her oyster.
Although unsure about what she wanted to do after stepping away from school for a year, she was young, vivacious and possessed a huge appetite for life, knowledge and travel. Little did she know that weeks later she would be clinging on to life.
After spending some fabulous time with family friends in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa – enjoying the golden sands and the Indian Ocean – Katya didn’t want to go home with brothers Hector and Boris and mother Marsha. She felt the urge to extend her travels.
So, rather than travelling back to Midhurst in West Sussex, Katya took a flight to Cape Town in South Africa to visit yet more family friends – Marsha grew up in Africa, moving to the UK in her teens, so she had a network of friends right across the continent.
Having been covered under a family travel insurance policy while with her mother and brothers, Marsha and dad Roberto bought new travel insurance to cover Katya for the 12-day extended stay. She fell in love with Cape Town and decided she would stay longer and enrol on a five-day yachting stewardess course.
Recovering: Katya in hospital in Cape Town with mother Marsha and father Roberto after her second operation
Again, her parents arranged new cover – something they did once more when Katya said she would spend two more weeks in Cape Town before coming home. What the divorced parents had no idea of is that the three policies they had bought for Katya while she was travelling alone were worthless. They were invalid from day one because of a clause common to all standard travel policies – which stipulates that anyone named on a policy must travel from and to the UK.
Katya was in mid-travel, so technically she was not travelling from the UK, although she had started her journey there. In 99 per cent of cases, this would have made no difference. But in Katya’s case, it had massive financial implications – for Marsha, a freelance chef, and Roberto, an IT engineer.
Five days into her last two weeks in South Africa, and a month after celebrating her 18th birthday, Katya suffered a brain haemorrhage. She was rushed to the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town where part of her skull was removed to relieve pressure on the brain. At one stage, it was touch and go whether she would survive.
Although the removed piece of skull has now been reattached – it was temporarily kept alive inside her stomach – Katya has lost 40 per cent of vision in her right eye. She will also probably remain on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Says Roberto: ‘She had to learn to read and write again, but in time she will hopefully make a full recovery. We’re looking into schools that can help her make a fresh start.’
Care-free: Katya at her 18th in Cape Town before her haemorrhage
Yet the financial implications of Katya’s dice with death have dented the finances of Marsha and Roberto. Axa Partners, the travel insurer at the time of Katya’s brain haemorrhage, has refused to pay any of the hospital bills – in excess of £100,000 – racked up while she was receiving treatment in Cape Town. As it told me last week: ‘We are unable to settle her claim as her policy was purchased when she was already on her trip, which unfortunately meant her cover was not valid.’
Axa will not shift its position despite pressure from both myself and Roberto – who has now complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service. It also refused to reveal how many customers fall foul of this condition as a result of extending their overseas travel and requiring new cover.
It’s hard not to be sympathetic towards Marsha and Roberto. In buying new policies for Katya, they thought they were acting responsibly. Their mistake, a genuine one, was not to go through the policy small print which clearly states travel must begin and end in the UK. The Association of British Insurers says the policy condition they fell foul of is a result of ‘regulatory requirements’, the way cover is priced (taking into account the risk of cancellation pre-trip through to in-trip risks such as baggage loss or the need for medical cover) and anti-fraud measures.
It adds: ‘Purchasing cover after a trip has started carries a higher probability that there is an awareness of a reason to claim already.’
Yet it also said some specialist firms DO offer ‘already travelling insurance’ – cover that if bought by Marsha and Roberto would have paid Katya’s medical bills.
These policies are designed for people who are already travelling (the Katyas of this world), the only requirement being that the policyholder is a UK resident. But they are not well known and unavailable on mainstream comparison websites which is where most people (including Marsha and Roberto) buy travel insurance.
At the very minimum, the ABI and comparison websites should be raising consumer awareness of such cover – to ensure that others don’t find themselves in the same financial mire that the Katalinic family are now in.
Is insurer Aviva asleep at the wheel?
Thanks for all your emails about insurers giving you the cold shoulder – rather than offering you the opportunity to renew your car or home cover. One that caught my eye was from Richard Howland, a 73-year-old retired police officer who lives with wife Joy in a village just outside Hexham in Northumberland.
Joy, 68, drives a 2019 Mercedes A180 and was insured through Aviva. At renewal, she received two contradictory letters from Aviva. One invited her to renew, the other informed her that it no longer had a product to suit her needs – and that she should go elsewhere.
This second letter said its inability to offer a renewal should not be seen as an insurance refusal or cancellation – and would not need to be disclosed to any future insurer.
Understandably confused, the couple checked their Aviva online account which confirmed the insurer was no longer able to offer Joy cover.
Joy turned to the RAC for alternative cover, only to be told by Aviva four days before her existing policy was due to expire that its ‘decline to insure’ letter was sent in error – a result of a computer glitch. Joy stuck with RAC.
‘It seems Aviva’s left hand does not know what its right hand is doing,’ Richard told me last week. Absolutely. I call it incompetence of the first order.
Readers taking Saga to Small Claims Court
A number of readers are taking Saga to the Small Claims Court over its controversial decision to renege on a lifetime subscription deal which was meant to guarantee them free copies of its monthly magazine.
Saga says it has done no wrong – the magazine is still free, but online only. Claimants argue they signed up to free hard copies of the magazine and can’t read it online – or don’t want to.
Baroness Ros Altmann is firmly on the side of claimants. She says that if someone purchased a lifetime annuity 20 years ago, when rates were higher than now, the provider cannot then come along and ask for more money to continue providing it. They must deliver what they promised.
It’s the same for Saga. It promised to send subscribers the magazine until they died. May justice prevail.