Johnny Timpson's Blog

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Experiencing a mental health problem is often upsetting, confusing and frightening for individuals and their families. As we enter Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s consider what more we could be doing as an industry to support policy holders and their families when they are at their most vulnerable.

Mental Health UK has recently researched the experiences of people with mental health issues who have applied for protection cover. Whilst the results of their research will be published shortly, the charity have kindly allowed me to share some key findings:

  • A majority of survey respondents commented that the questions in the application were asked insensitively.
  • There was no warning given that the questions being asked might cause some distress.
  • Verbatim quotes from respondents highlight the anxiety and stress of the process - “The application process seemed over-complicated and seemed to imply that I was uninsurable… I was too anxious to question this.”  and “It’s a stressful process but everything is when you suffer from anxiety, depression and stress.”

In my opinion there are some areas we should be concentrating on as an industry:

Consider the language used - Provide a warning when we’re about to ask questions related to mental health and wellbeing, especially where the questions relate to self-harm and suicide. We should also explain why we are asking questions and what we will do with the information. As part of our vulnerable customer protocols, include a signpost to mental health support should someone feel distressed during or after the application.

Train staff - Ensure that all staff taking customers through applications over the phone and/or face to face understand mental health issues and have the skills to have a conversation. As part of  vulnerable customer protocols staff should utilise the TEXAS drill.

Transparency and demystifying underwriting - Whilst one in four people are likely to experience a mental health problem, the mental illness disclosure rate at Scottish Widows currently sits at only 14%. Are people concerned that disclosing a mental health condition will prevent them from getting cover or that they’ll see an increase to the premiums? We need to openly discuss this and tackle the concerns and perceptions that clients may have.

We know that in reality nearly eight in ten cases (78%) will result in standard rates being offered at point of sale, with a 96% overall acceptance for life cover.*

Signposting to specialists
The findings from the FCA’s July 2017 ‘Call for evidence on access to insurance’ highlighted the benefits of signposting clients with health conditions and/or disabilities to specialist advisers, as they were found able to obtain more appropriate and affordable cover. The need for, and benefits of, effective signposting are a feature of the responses to Mental Health UK’s research.

As the Cabinet Office Disability and Access Champion for the insurance industry and profession, I support the work on mental health and insurance being progressed by the ABI, this being done in collaboration with the highly collaborative industry, consumer group and health charity Access To Insurance Working Group, who are seeking to address these issues.

At Scottish Widows, our partnership with Mental Health UK puts us in a unique position to really understand the issues facing customers when applying for protection cover and how to make their application journey as smooth as possible. By gaining valuable feedback from our partnership and from customers we are firmly focused on making improvements to how we interact with customers

Many of us know someone who has experienced a mental health problem. They can and do happen to people of all ages and from all walks of life. It’s essential that our industry and profession supports policy holders and their families when they are most in need.

Mental Health Awareness Week is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. For further information visit

*Source: Scottish Widows Underwriting Statistics, 2019.

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