Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 09:53 UK

Arson victim billed by insurer

By Maggie Dolan
BBC Inside Out

Michelle Barber
Ms Barber's house was destroyed in an arson attack

An investigation by BBC Inside Out has revealed how people have found their home insurance worthless because they did not realise they needed to declare even the most minor criminal offences.

One in five of the working population is said to have some kind of conviction or caution.

Michelle Barber, of Burton Road, Barnsley, failed to mention a fine she received for an overpayment of benefit.

She made a claim following an arson attack on her house. Her insurers, Norwich-based Aviva are now demanding she repay £240,000 for the rebuilding costs to her house.

Accurate information essential

The company said that had Ms Barber declared her conviction they would not have offered her cover.

Aviva said that when declaring information for an insurance quote it is essential that customers supply accurate information to ensure they have adequate cover in the event that they need to make a claim. A spokesperson for Aviva said: "In this instance, Ms Barber has failed to declare previous convictions, although she has had opportunities to do so.

Michelle Barber

Michelle Barber said she had to repay 250,000 and would lose everything

"Had Ms Barber disclosed her previous fraud conviction we would not have offered her cover.

"As we consider that Ms Barber's non-disclosure involved a material fact that was deliberately withheld, we have voided the policy from its inception and we are standing by our decision to recover money we have already paid out for a previous claim."

Ms Barber's policy documents did ask her to declare if she had a criminal conviction but she says she did not realise her £100 fine, which did not involve the police, counted.

Many of us could be in the same position because we do not realise that we need to own up to our misdemeanours.

'Clear questions'

Convictions that can affect buildings and contents insurance can be as minor as stealing a packet of crisps or public order offences such as urinating in the street or a minor assault.

People are getting caught out because they do not realise that they have to disclose these things when they first take out their insurance
Chris Bath, Unlock

Chris Bath from the charity Unlock, which is campaigning on the issue, said: "People are getting caught out because they do not realise that they have to disclose these things when they first take out their insurance contract."

It is not just the policy holder who needs to own up to their past. You also have to declare the past of those living with you under your roof.

"You are going to have to declare your past and you also have to declare the past of those living with you under your roof," added Mr Bath.

"This includes your children, partner and even a lodger."

A spokeswoman for The Association of British Insurers said: "I would say that insurers ask clear questions about convictions up front... we need to decide if this is sufficient and if more needs to be done to make sure people understand exactly what people need to disclose, to whom and when.

"This is something the ABI is looking at with its members."

Ms Barber is now taking her case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

In the meantime she is left with a bill for nearly £250,000.

The Inside Out programme was broadcast on BBC1 at 1930 BST on Monday 12 October.

BBC reporter David Whiteley (left) and Chris Bath

One in five employed people have convictions that are more serious than a driving offence, the charity claims



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