M&S Insurance: A Couple of Dubious Practices

Based on a review by consumer group Which?, I recently took out an insurance policy with M&S Insurance.

Overview of the Policy

Although the policy is marketed under the M&S brand, it is in fact provided on their behalf by AxaWhilst it was cheaper than other comparable policies – and substantially cheaper than renewing my existing policy, which had inexplicable year-on-year premium rise of 43%! – this policy did come with a couple of surprises.

What Was Wrong With the Policy?

  1. Customers are forced to accept automatic policy renewal.  Unlike many other policies that at least have opt-out checkboxes for auto-renewal, there is no way of opting out of auto-renewal during the sign-up process.  It was also not clear on screen that auto-renewal was being applied to the policy.  I only found this out by specifically searching the Terms & Conditions for this information.
  2. By default, no printed policy documents are sent.  Whilst electronic copies of the policy documents were made available straight away, no printed copies were sent.  It was not clear during sign-up process that this would be the case and only when I asked a few days later when I would  receive these documents was I told that I had signed up to an online-only policy.

Why Does This Cause Concern?

These come across as dubious practices for the following reasons:

  • Poor communication a major concern.   The issues above are not, in my experience at least, normal practices.  So, it was disappointing that M&S Insurance did not feel it was appropriate to draw attention to these abnormalities in their policy.
  • Opting customers into auto-renewal is a dodgy practice that is found in many insurance policies but it is, at least, usually marked with a checkbox, even if many insurers choose to check it on behalf of their customers.  Given that many people do not read the Terms & Condition, customers may only discover they have been subscribed to auto-renewal when the renewal reminder is issued the following year.
  • It is not uncommon for people to wait for the printed documents to arrive in order to check the full details of the policy, often because they find this easier than reading that level of detail on screen.   Failing to alert customers to the fact that they will not receive a printed copy means that by the time they have realised no documentation is coming and request a copy, any cooling-off period may have expired.

What Would Good Practice Look Like?

Here is how I would expect any reputable company to treat their customers:

  • Not opt people into automatic renewal.  Good practice is to provide an auto-renewal opt-in box and leave it unchecked.  If the customer wishes to opt in to auto-renewal, then they can do so.
  • Send printed documents by default.   Good practice is to provide an opt-in box for “online-only” documents and leave it unchecked.  If the customer does not wish to receive printed documents, they can check the box.

How Did M&S Insurance React When I Contacted Them?

Let me be fair and say that M&S Insurance has responded promptly to my emails, as well as sending a follow-up letter along with some unsolicited gift vouchers as a goodwill gesture, so I cannot fault their customer service:

  • They have opted me out of auto-renewal.
  • They sent me printed documentation.
  • They have acknowledged the concerns I raised about these practices and indicated they will given them some consideration, although time will tell whether they improve their practices.

Anything Which? Could Help With?

As I chose the policy due to its high rating on the Which? website, I think there are some things they could do to help customers avoid the potential problems that could arise from the dubious practices listed above.  I will contact them to suggest they may wish to consider indicating the following alongside each policy they review :

  • Whether printed documentation will be sent by default.
  • Whether it is possible to take out the policy without being forced to agree to automatic renewal, i.e. is there an opt-out box?
  • Whether the auto-renewal box is checked by default.