Types of complaint we see
We get several types of complaint about insurers turning down vehicle theft claims. We hear from customers who tell us that their insurer:
- thinks you left the key inside the vehicle when it was stolen
- thinks you left the vehicle unattended
- says what happened is excluded by a clause in your policy
- says a family member stole the vehicle or took it without your consent
What we look at
As with every case, in reaching a decision about what’s fair and reasonable, we consider:
- the relevant law and regulations
- any regulator’s rules and guidance that applied at the time
- any industry codes of conduct in force at the time
- what we consider was good industry practice at the time
If there are disagreements about the facts, we’ll make our decision about what happened using evidence provided by you, your insurer and relevant third parties.
Read more about what we consider in the types of complaint we see:
We’ll check that your insurer has considered all the circumstances. We’ll look at:
- whether your version of events is consistent in how and when you reported the event to the police – and if the police treated it as a crime
- all reports and witness statements, including any recommendations for further investigations
- whether you’ve given your insurer all the keys for the vehicle and if not, why not
Your insurer may think you left your keys in your vehicle because there’s no obvious sign of a break-in. In these situations, we’ll ask:
- how you think your vehicle was stolen
- why the insurer thinks you left your keys in the vehicle
- whether your version of events is consistent in how and when you reported the event to the police and to your insurer – and if the police treated it as a crime
- whether you’ve given your insurer all the keys for the vehicle and if not, why not
Even though there’s no obvious sign of a break-in, it doesn’t always mean the key was left in the vehicle. So we’ll check the insurer has fully explored other possibilities. For example, could the keys have been copied, stolen through a letter box, or does the vehicle have keyless entry?
We might ask the insurer whether they’ve taken information from the engine control unit, or if the key is electronic, whether they’ve “read” the keys. This might show:
- whether another key has been programmed to use the vehicle
- which key was last used to drive the vehicle, and when
- faults already on the car that might have made a thief get rid of the vehicle after stealing it
We’ll check whether an engineer has inspected the vehicle in person or just looked at pictures. If they haven’t thoroughly inspected the vehicle, we may tell them to carry out a full inspection and then reconsider the claim.
Sometimes, a vehicle can’t be inspected because it’s been burnt out or has never been recovered.
If it’s burnt out, there’s unlikely to be any evidence that the key was used. So we might say it’s unfair for the insurer to rely on an exclusion clause relating to keys.
If a vehicle has never been recovered, we’ll look carefully at evidence and possible reasons for it being stolen, and then decide what’s most likely to have happened.
Your insurer may have rejected your claim because they believe you left your vehicle unattended – but you insist you didn’t.
We’ll investigate the circumstances and ask for evidence such as CCTV footage and photos of the area. We’ll consider how close you were to your vehicle, and whether you could have done anything to prevent it being stolen.
If the vehicle was on private land, we’ll ask questions such as whether:
- the vehicle was visible from a main road
- the engine was running
- the boot or doors were left open
If the vehicle wasn’t visible to other people, we might not agree with your insurer that it was unattended.
We’ll look at each individual case to decide what’s fair. If we think you had a good reason to leave your vehicle or were near enough to deter a thief, we’re likely to tell the insurer to pay the claim. We’ll also check whether your insurer clearly highlighted that leaving the vehicle could lead to a claim being rejected.
Most insurance policies exclude claims involving theft by deception. However, we sometimes decide the insurer has applied this too strictly. For example, if the person stealing the vehicle used violence, we might say that doesn’t count as deception as it’s more like car-jacking.
We might agree it’s fair for an insurer to turn down a claim if we can see that the keys and control of the vehicle were voluntarily handed over to someone else. We’d also think about what steps to took to minimise the risk. For example, if you were letting someone test-drive your car, did you stay in the car or check their ID and insurance documents?
We’ll also check whether, and how quickly, you reported the theft to the police, as well as telling your insurer. We’ll compare these different accounts and consider what’s most likely to have happened.
Some people tell us their insurer says they didn’t do enough to prevent their vehicle being stolen. Insurers sometimes call this not taking “reasonable care” or acting “recklessly”.
Most motor insurance policies have an exclusion that says people should take reasonable care to protect their vehicle from loss or damage. This won’t usually be relevant in situations where an insurer has applied the exclusion relating to leaving keys in a vehicle or leaving a vehicle unattended.
If you recognised there was a risk that your vehicle could be stolen, and didn’t do enough to minimise the risk, we need to decide whether we think this was “reckless”. So we’ll ask the insurer for evidence that you recognised the risk. And we’ll look into where, why and how you left your vehicle.
If there’s no evidence that you recognised the risk in what you were doing, we might say you haven’t been reckless, and that it’s unfair for the insurer to apply the exclusion.
Your insurance policy may contain exclusion clauses which mean you’re not covered if you leave the keys in or around the vehicle. There are likely to be other exclusion clauses and your insurer may think one of these are relevant to your claim. We have looked at these under their subject headings.
If you weren’t aware of the exclusion, you may think it’s unfair for the insurer not to pay out for your claim.
When we investigate these cases, we want to be sure that the exclusion was clearly highlighted to you when you bought the policy. We might:
- check if the exclusion was mentioned in a key facts or summary document
- ask for evidence to show they discussed it with you, where possible, such as on a recorded sales call
If we don’t think this was sufficiently highlighted we’d want to know what you would have done if you’d known about it.
We’ll also check your insurer is being fair in applying the exclusion. For example, you may have known about the exclusion, but left your keys in your car due to an emergency. We might say it’s unfair for your insurer to not pay out, because you had a good reason for leaving the keys in the car.
Insurance policies normally exclude claims for theft or attempted theft if they’ve been carried out by a relative or other household member. This is a common exclusion that we don’t think is significant.
However, the policy may contain an exception that says the claim can be considered if you agree to cooperate with the police in investigating or prosecuting the relative or household member.
If you cooperated with the police but they decided not to take any action, we’d normally expect your insurer to pay out on the claim.
Some policies don’t contain this exception and may have a blanket exclusion regardless of whether you cooperate with the police. We’d consider this unusual and would expect the insurer to highlight it very clearly in a summary or key facts document within the policy. This is because you might have chosen a different policy if you knew they weren’t going to cover you for this. If your insurer didn’t make this clear and we think you would have bought a different policy, we may well uphold your complaint.
In some cases, your insurer may reject a claim because a relative took a vehicle without consent, rather than stealing it. However, the law says that taking a vehicle without consent is still theft, so we’d expect them to pay out on a valid claim.
However, if the relative who stole the vehicle has a known history of doing this, we might agree that you should have kept your keys more securely and reject your complaint.
It is common for motorcycle policies, as well as some high value car insurance policies, to require a vehicle to be kept in a locked garage when at the address on the policy schedule. Many policies require the vehicle to be garaged at all times, unless actually in use, although others will only require it to be garaged during specific times, normally overnight.
Other policies, in particular motorcycle policies, can also require additional security conditions to be met such as engaging the steering lock while parked.
We generally think these terms are reasonable, but they should be adequately highlighted when the policy was sold.
If an insurer turns down a claim because a security condition hadn’t been met we might look at:
- any evidence you can provide about whether the condition had been met
- whether the condition being met or not made a difference to the theft
- whether the security requirements were made clear in the policy documents
How to complain
The first thing you should do is explain to your insurer what’s happened and why you’re complaining. They need to have the chance to put things right. They have to give you their final response within eight weeks for most types of complaint.
If you’re not happy with their response, or the insurer doesn't reply in time, you can bring your complaint to us. We’ll check it’s something we can deal with, and if it is, we’ll investigate.
Find out more about how to complain.
Putting things right
If we find you’ve been treated unfairly, we'll ask the insurer to put things right. This usually involves putting you back in the position you’d be in if things hadn’t gone wrong.
For example, if we uphold your complaint, we’ll usually tell the insurer to pay out on the claim. This means you’ll be paid what the vehicle was worth on the day it was stolen.
We’ll also consider whether you’ve experienced any distress or inconvenience as a result of what the insurer did wrong and whether we think it’s appropriate to award compensation.
Read more about how we award compensation.
An insurer is wrong about keys being left in a car
A consumer leaves his car running and unattended
A consumer doesn’t do enough to prevent his car being stolen
A consumer’s car is stolen by deception
Information for financial businesses
If you’re a business looking for information to help you resolve complaints or want to find out more technical information, you can find more detail about vehicle theft in the business section of our website.