My insurer said driving from a station is commuting – and denied my claim

Devil in the details: The definition of just one word, “commuting,” is at the heart of the problem

I work in London, live in Hertfordshire and take the train and then the tube to work.

I usually walk or cycle to my local train station before taking public transport to the capital, but occasionally I have to drive.

When I do this I usually take the family car, but one day last October I had to take our second car for personal reasons. I was driving home from the station when I slowly collided with a man walking in the middle of the road in the dark.

Police said the man was “obviously drunk,” that it wasn’t my fault, and that he escaped without serious injury. His family even wrote to me to thank them for caring for him after the collision.

So I was surprised when I contacted my broker, Hastings, in February to say the man had filed a claim.

Devil in the details: The definition of just one word, “commuting,” is at the heart of the problem

Devil in the details: The definition of just one word, “commuting,” is at the heart of the problem

Hastings told me I wasn’t covered by my Advantage insurance policy because my contract only covers ‘social, domestic and pleasure’ (SDP) use.

Hastings claims I was traveling home and therefore should have purchased a ‘social, domestic, pleasure and commuting’ (SDP+C) policy.

Surely ‘commuting’ involves driving my car to and from work, and not driving a few miles each way of 80 miles each way?

I checked my policy and it defines it as ‘travel to and from a fixed business location’.

That was clearly not what I did and I had to drive that car to the station that day for personal reasons that changed my normal commuting pattern

I’m afraid I’ll be faced with a large legal bill and not have insurance coverage.

Sam Barker from This is Money replies: This whole situation revolves around answering one question: what is commuting?

For insurers, SDP car insurance would cover the use of the car for everyday car journeys such as visiting people, going to the shops, picking up children from school and so on.

The improved, generally more expensive SDP+C policy also covers commuting.

The reason insurance companies consider this important is that there may be a greater risk to them when commuting, such as parking and leaving a car unattended in public for an extended period of time, or traveling more miles behind the send.

The problem here is the definition of “commuting,” which varies wildly between insurance companies.

Some, like Comparethemarket, LV, Confused.com and Admiral, explicitly say that driving to the train station and leaving your car there counts as commuting.

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Others, including your own broker, Hastings, are less clear.

Your policy conditions state: ‘What is not covered: Travel to and from a permanent business or study location.’

To me, and to you, and no doubt to many others, it sounds like you are not covered for the use of your car for the entire commute, all the way to work. It is not clearly stated that you are not covered for part of it, namely driving to the station.

But Hastings accused you, saying you had ‘breached the terms of your policy agreement’.

A Hastings employee told you: ‘Your policy cover is for social use only, but we understand that at the time of the collision it was being used for commuting to Bishops Stortford train station and then traveling to London for work.

‘The ‘essential nature’ of the trip was therefore the commute to/from your workplace.’

Obviously this is incorrect in one respect: you were driving home from the train station at the end of the day and didn’t go there to begin with.

Regardless, Hastings remained firm and told you that the claim would not be covered if successful, which could have left you with a very large bill.

This is Money approached Hastings asking the firm to reconsider and agree to cover you for any legal bills arising from the claim, arguing it was both unclear and unfair.

Hastings then agreed to fight the claim and cover the costs anyway, saying it would clarify its wording around what “commuting” meant.

The agent said he tried to contact you, which you deny.

A spokesperson for Hastings said: ‘We have continued to investigate the claim and have attempted to contact your reader on a number of occasions to discuss this. Because we were unfortunately unable to reach her, a standard letter was sent.

‘We always prefer to discuss complex claims with our policyholders to confirm and clarify all aspects of the claim.

‘We have now been able to speak to Jane and discussed this with her in detail. From this conversation we can now confirm that we intend to cover the costs of the claim.

‘Generally speaking, this is an approach we would take with all customers in this position, regardless of the technical policy wording (clarity on the wording on commuting is already scheduled for an update), although as you can imagine we would case on its own merit, depending on the circumstances.

“It is our full intention to fight and defend the case brought by the third party, and we do not expect Jane to cover these costs.”

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