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common complaints showing our approach



I wasn't told that I wasn't allowed to leave my keys in my car ...

Some people tell us they didn’t know their insurance policy said they shouldn’t leave their keys in their car. So they don’t think it’s fair for their insurer to reject their claim.

  • It’s good practice for insurers to highlight important exclusions when they’re selling insurance policies - so people know what they’re signing up to. If an insurer didn’t highlight the exclusion about leaving keys in a car, we might decide it’s unfair for them to use it.
  • To decide whether someone knew about the exclusion, we’ll check whether it was clearly explained upfront. We’ll see if it was in the key facts. And depending on how the insurance was sold, we might ask the insurer for evidence they discussed the exclusion with their customer.
  • If someone knew about the exclusion - but still left their keys in their car - we’ll decide whether it’s fair to apply the exclusion. If we think there’s a good reason someone left the keys in their car - for example, if there was an emergency - we might say it’s unfair for the insurer to rely on the exclusion.

case study 1

When Miss V tried to claim for her stolen car, the insurer said she’d been “reckless” in leaving her keys in the car, and they wouldn’t pay out.

Miss V had taken her insurance out over the phone. But during the call, the insurer hadn’t mentioned the exclusion for theft if Miss V left her keys in the car. And she hadn’t been sent the full policy document after the call - so we didn’t think the insurer had fairly highlighted the exclusion.

We also saw that Miss V had hidden her keys under an apron - which we didn’t think was likely to attract thieves in itself. While we accepted Miss V might have been careless to leave her keys in her car, we didn’t think she’d acted recklessly - and we told the insurer to pay the claim.



I didn't leave my car unattended - but the insurer is saying I did ...

Insurance policies usually say that if people leave their cars unattended, the insurer won’t pay a claim for theft. Some people tell us they didn’t leave their car unattended - but their insurer is insisting they did.

  • To decide what’s most likely to have happened, we’ll ask for evidence such as CCTV footage and photos of the area. We’ll consider how close someone was to their car - and whether they could have reasonably prevented it from being stolen.
  • If the car was on private land, we’ll ask questions such as whether the engine was running, whether the boot or doors were left open, and whether the car was visible from a main road. If it wasn’t visible, we might decide it’s unfair for the insurer to say it was “unattended”.
  • On the face of it, leaving a car unattended in a public place seems a risky thing to do. But there are always exceptions - for example, if someone’s called away to an emergency. So we’ll always consider the particular circumstances of what’s happened when we’re deciding if the exclusion should apply.
  • If we agree someone left their car unattended, we’ll check whether the insurer clearly highlighted that this could lead to a claim being rejected.
  • Like us, the courts take a pragmatic approach about what “unattended” means. For the legal position, see Hayward v Norwich Union Insurance Ltd.

case study 2

Mr G’s car was stolen from his driveway while he was in his house. He’d left the keys in the ignition and the engine running to de-ice the car. When he tried to claim on his insurance, the insurer told him they wouldn’t pay - because he’d left his car unattended with the keys inside.

Looking at the statement Mr G had made to the police, it seemed he’d been upstairs when the car was stolen. The car was some distance away and out of sight - so we thought it was fair for the insurer to say Mr G left the car unattended. And looking at the policy documents Mr G had been sent when he bought his policy, the “keys in car” exclusion had been clearly highlighted - so we thought the insurer had acted fairly in declining the claim.



I didn't leave my keys in my car - but my insurer doesn't believe me ...

Some people tell us that they didn’t leave their keys in their car. But their insurer is saying they must have done - because they think the keys were used to steal the car.

  • We’ll ask how someone thinks their car was stolen - as well as asking the insurer why they think the keys were left in the car. Using what we’ve seen and heard, we’ll decide what’s most likely to have happened.
  • Some people say they only ever had one set of car keys - whereas the insurer says they were given two. To decide what’s more likely, we’ll check records from when the car was sold and ask both sides for any evidence they have.
  • An insurer might turn down a claim because there’s no obvious sign of a break-in. But from the complaints we see, we know this doesn’t necessarily mean the key’s been used. So we’ll check the insurer has fully explored other options. For example, we’ve seen situations where keys have been copied or stolen through a letter box.
  • We might ask the insurer whether they’ve looked at the engine control unit. In some cases, this can show whether another key has been programmed to use the car - or which key was last used to drive the car, and when. It could also show faults that might have made a thief get rid of the car after stealing it. Or, depending on the car, there might be data in the spare key.
  • We’ll check how the insurer has inspected the car - for example, whether they’ve inspected it in person or just looked at pictures. If they haven’t thoroughly inspected the car, we may tell them to carry out a full inspection - and then reconsider the claim.
  • In some cases, the car can’t be inspected. If it’s been burnt out - meaning the insurer can’t actually inspect it - there’s unlikely to be any evidence that the key was used. So we might say it’s unfair to rely on the exclusion relating to keys.
  • If the car hasn’t been recovered at all, we’ll look carefully at the possible explanations for how it could have been stolen - and decide what’s most likely to have happened.

case study 3

Miss A’s car was stolen and later found a few miles away, badly damaged. After the insurer investigated her claim, they wouldn’t pay out. They said the car couldn’t be stolen without a key - and as she had both sets of keys, they thought she’d lied about the car being stolen.

We explained to the insurer that, from our regular conversations with security experts, we know these kinds of cars can be stolen quickly and easily without their programmed key. The driver’s window had been smashed, suggesting a break-in, and the police reports reflected what Miss A had told us about the theft.

In the circumstances, we didn’t think the insurer had shown Miss A’s version of events was wrong. We told them to meet the claim, and to make an additional payment for the embarrassment they’d caused by suggesting she’d lied about the theft.



I was tricked and my car was stolen - but my insurer won't pay my claim ...

We sometimes hear from people who think it’s unfair their insurer won’t pay out. Often, someone’s been trying to sell their car - but a “potential buyer” has driven off with it.

  • Most insurance policies exclude claims involving “theft by deception”. But in some cases, we decide the insurer has applied the definition of “deception” too strictly. For example, if violence was involved in the theft, we might not agree there’s been a “deception”.
  • To agree that it’s fair to turn down a claim, we’d need to decide that someone has voluntarily given their keys - and control of the car - to someone else.
  • If we think someone knew there was a risk their car could be stolen, we’ll check what they did to minimise the risk. For example, if they were letting someone else test drive their car, did they stay in the car - and keep hold of the keys? If we don’t think someone did enough to lessen the risk, we might say it’s fair to turn down their claim.
  • We’ll also check whether - and how quickly - someone reported the theft to the police, as well as telling their insurer. We’ll compare these different accounts - and weigh up what’s most likely to have happened.

case study 4

A potential buyer for Mr H’s car asked to look under the bonnet while the engine was running. They then asked for a test drive. But as Mr H went to get back in the passenger seat, the man stole the car.

Mr H’s insurer said his policy didn’t cover “theft by deception”. But Mr H hadn’t intended to let the man drive the car without him - and had only been closing the bonnet when the theft happened. Mr H hadn’t voluntarily handed over the keys or left the car unattended. So we decide it wasn’t fair to apply the exclusion.



my insurer is saying I didn't take enough care of my car ...

Some people tell us that their insurer is saying they didn’t do enough to prevent their car being stolen. Insurers sometimes call this not taking “reasonable care” - or acting “recklessly”.

  • Most car insurance policies have an exclusion that says people should take reasonable care to protect their car 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 car - or leaving a car unattended.
  • We’ll usually agree someone acted recklessly if they recognised there was a risk that their car could be stolen - and didn’t do enough to minimise the risk. So we’ll ask the insurer for evidence that their customer recognised the risk. And we’ll look into where, why and how someone left their car.
  • We’ll bear in mind the legal view on what it means to be “reckless” - which is set out in the case of Sofi v Prudential Assurance. If there’s no evidence that someone recognised the risk in what they were doing, we’re likely to say they haven’t been reckless - and that it’s unfair to apply the exclusion.

case study 5

Shortly after Mr K lost his house and car keys, his car was stolen. The insurer turned down his claim, saying he hadn’t taken “reasonable care” after losing his keys to stop the car being stolen.

Mr K told us he’d had the locks on his house changed, but hadn’t got round to getting the car locks changed yet. We thought this suggested that Mr K had recognised there was a risk that his lost keys might be used in a theft. We decided that he hadn’t done enough to stop the car being stolen - so it was fair for the insurer to use the exclusion to turn down his claim.

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consumer helpline - 0800 023 4567
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