Higher Excess can mean Lower Premiums. Not always a good move.

Most insurers will allow you to increase your excess to reduce your premium. Why? Because when you increase your excess it shifts some risk from the insurer back to you. It represents a saving for insurers, as they no longer have to pay out numerous small claims.

Often people see a higher excess as one of the most effective ways to save on insurance costs but it may not be the wisest option. The reality is that when you do make a claim, you will have to pay more towards it. And in the event of multiple claims, the total can skyrocket.

Consider this scenario: Jordan and Annabelle opted to increase their excesses to reduce their premiums last year. They had 2 cars comprehensively insured through ABC Insurance as well as their home and contents. For the cars, the standard excess was $600 but they opted to increase it to $1000. In addition, they increased their home and contents standard excess of $250 to $1250. The total premium saving for the year was $670. That’s great news! Or is it?

A serious hailstorm came along that hit their home and both their cars. Claims lodged for both vehicles and home were met with an excess bill of $3250. If they had retained the standard excesses they would only have to contribute $1450. So the premium saving of $670 left them out of pocket by $1800 at claim time.

Choose a level of excess you can afford and take the time to review your insurance schedule and policy wordings to see if you can bear the costs of excess contribution. Also, be aware that some insurers have different types of excesses that may apply in different situations or apply concurrently. Contact your insurance broker if you have any doubts or questions.

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Pre-existing injury disclosure…employers can ask

Late last year the Queensland government made some significant changes to the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. One particular change that employers should be aware of is that employers may now ask a prospective employee to disclose any pre-existing injury or medical condition that they believe or should suspect would be aggravated by the duties of the position applied for.

Further, the employer is entitled to access a prospective employee’s claims history. The request must be in writing and the prospective employer needs to provide the prospective employee with information about the nature of the duties involved in the job. They also need to advise the prospective employee that if they do not comply with the request, or supply false or misleading information, they will not be entitled to compensation or damages under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 for any event that aggravates the non-disclosed pre-existing injury.

The prospective employer may also apply to the Workers’ Compensation Regulator for a copy of the prospective worker’s claims history. The application needs to be in the prescribed form and requires the prospective employee’s consent. This information can only be used by the prospective employer for the purpose of considering that person’s application for employment.

Whilst these changes will definitely be beneficial to employers, employers need to be mindful that they still need to comply with discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) when considering a prospective employee’s application for employment. If a prospective employee discloses a pre-existing injury and they can establish that the employer has discriminated against them based on their knowledge of that pre-existing injury the employer may be liable to pay compensation.

Employers will also need to take account of a possible increased exposure to negligence claims in circumstances where the employee has made disclosure of pre-existing injuries or conditions. If an employer has knowledge that the employee suffers from a pre-existing injury this may give rise to a special or higher duty of care to that employee than it would otherwise owe as a result of being furnished with that knowledge.

Before making any changes to their employment practices based on these changes it is recommended that expert advice be sought regarding the above matters.

 

A business minefield – Employees misusing social media!

Business owners beware! Even if you or your businesses are not active in the social media space, your employees’ online actions can have a lasting real life impact.

In a well-known case from 2011, an employee of Linfox Australia Pty Ltd was dismissed for posting offensive and discriminatory comments about two of his managers on his Facebook profile page.

The Fair Work Commissioner recognised that the posted comments were ‘outrageous and distasteful’, but found that Linfox did not have grounds to dismiss the employee. At the time of the dismissal and the hearing, Linfox did not have a social media policy.

In the recent case of Malcolm Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2014], the Fair Work Commission held that it is not “harsh, unjust, or unreasonable” to expect an employee to comply with a social media policy that operates outside, as well as inside, the workplace. In this case, Linfox (presumably having learned from its previous experience) had implemented a social media policy and Mr Pearson’s refusal to sign this policy, amongst other shortcomings, constituted a valid reason for dismissal. The Commission dismissed the unfair dismissal case on the basis that the social media policy was a legitimate exercise by Linfox in protecting its reputation and security. The Commission recognised that the natural overlap between public and private life makes such an “invasive” policy necessary.

“It is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer’s reputation and the security of the business could operate in an ‘at work’ context only…Gone is the time where an employee might claim posts on social media are intended to be for private consumption only.”

These decisions form part of an evolving body of case law that reflects the increasing prevalence of social media and a more sophisticated understanding of its implications in the workplace.

So what should employers do to protect their interests? Most experts agree that employers should:

  • Implement a comprehensive social media policy
  • Adequately train their employees in the policy and ensure they are aware of the employer’s expectations around social media in and out of the workplace, and
  • Regularly review the policy to maintain currency.

Employers should be mindful that courts and tribunals are increasingly willing to hold employees accountable for social media misuse. Hence, employers should not shy away from robust disciplinary actions when the circumstances are appropriate.

 

Household workers need cover too

Do you have a regular gardener or cleaner at your home or holiday home? Or maybe you have a paid child-minder at your residence on your social nights out? Have you considered if you require Household Worker Insurance?

If you have paid help at your domestic residence, Household Worker Insurance is critical. A single work-related accident can leave you, the employer, liable for thousands of dollars in medical bills. Even worse, it could lead to a common law claim, which could involve a lump sum payment for loss of future earnings, pain and suffering, permanent impairment etc., which could amount to millions of dollars.

Don’t assume you have domestic worker protection under your home and contents policy.

Under the Household Worker Insurance policy offered by WorkCover Queensland, you are covered for the cost of compensating a household worker in your employ who sustains a work-related injury while working for you. These costs may include lost wages, travelling expenses, hospital, medical and rehabilitation expenses and other associated costs.

The policy is only $50 for a two-year term. For more details head to the WorkCover Queensland website or contact your insurance broker.

 

Insurance: The Broker’s Role…versus supermarkets and other direct vendors

There is a significant push on selling insurance products through mainstream retailers. Their foray into insurance is a calculated move that relies heavily on the established reputation of these retailers to provide convenience and savings in commoditised household goods.

It’s a tactic popular with banks as they design products that will try to cater for all financial of their customers, and thereby, keep them ‘in house’.

So what’s the difference between insurance brokers and the direct sellers?

Both earn a commission from the placement of cover with the insurer. The product the client receives is only as good as the results when it’s needed at the time of a claim. The role of the insurance broker is to provide professional, advice-based service that represents the client’s best interests. The broker has a suite of product options available depending on clients’ circumstances, cover requirements and affordability.

The direct market relies on promoting a cheaper product as the bottom line. This is heavily supported by mass media advertising that keeps the subject matter in their campaigns light on detail and high on entertainment value – think of domesticated aliens, man folding underwear at counter, French girl struggling with Aussie accent, happy customers portrayed by actors etc. The product is deliberately made cheaper by using strict acceptance criteria and restricting policy coverage and benefits.

A recent study by Vero Insurance surveyed business owners as to why they prefer to deal with a broker. A common theme in the feedback was that a broker would see many claim scenarios and may be able to suggest the most appropriate cover based on previous experiences. This gave business owners more confidence rather than trying to understand the complexities themselves.

An important factor in any insurance buying decision should be how claims are settled. Brokers often recommend insurers based on their ability to provide excellent claims service. Insurance contracts and claim settlements can be complex and having professional guidance through the process is invaluable. Policy wordings often have limits, sub limits, conditions and exclusions that can potentially create situations where confusion reigns and the insurance industry is perceived as untrustworthy and deceitful.

The broker has the ability and responsibility to eliminate this confusion and provide the most suitable product for the clients’ needs.

If price is ever the single most important criterion in the insurance buying decision, then there can be benefits in using direct market insurers. However, always bear in mind that when price is optimised, the quality of cover usually suffers. Cheaper policies have strict acceptance criteria and the retailers’ call centre consultants have scripts to follow. The highly regimented and efficient transaction process is designed to deal with the large volume of phone calls. Closing the deal is likely to be the number one priority.

Aliens, Meerkats or Brokers? When buying insurance, which way to go?

Whilst it’s true to say that the TV ads of the Direct Insurance Marketers are very ‘catchy’ and ‘humorous’, prospective buyers of these classes of insurance from these vendors should be aware that the product being promoted is actually ‘protection’: protection of the livelihoods, incomes and assets of individuals and businesses. Not something to be treated lightly.

Generally, the Direct Market will promote their offerings on a ‘price’ model and whilst this is always part of any consideration, claims service and Policy Wordings and Conditions are of equal importance.

If only the quality of the coverage provided by the Direct Insurance Marketers was as comprehensive as their advertising campaigns.

This is where an Insurance Broker adds value to the purchasing proposition. The insurance broker’s role is to ‘canvas’ the ‘market’ with a view to obtaining a recommended ‘product’ that is appropriate to the individuals needs, taking into account any specific requirements. Additionally, many brokers are members of insurance Cluster Groups and these have policy wordings that are far superior, and ultimately of more benefit to the buyer, than that of the Direct Insurers.

Why wait in the long queue of a call centre or attempt to navigate the hurdles of a direct seller’s website when a broker can make the transaction a much easier and safer option?

The main point of difference though is at claim time when the consumer is totally ‘on their own’ in respect of Policy interpretation as well as having to arrange and manage the claim from start to finish. Brokers understand and manage claims. It’s what they do. They add to the process rather than detract from it. The broker will advise clients what information is required and then prepare and forward the claim to the insurer. A broker goes in to bat for you and manages the process from start through to settlement while their client can relax knowing he or she is in good hands.

Another major point that a broker offers over the Direct Marketer is the fact that at Renewal / Anniversary of the Policy time, the premiums are market checked to ensure that a client’s existing insurer is still providing the most competitive and comprehensive terms available. When dealing with a Direct Insurer, each year is just like starting over again.

As a client of a broking firm you are also able to access varied other services of your chosen broker. They have a range of valuable services and offers, available to you, all under the one roof and accessible by one phone call. Over time, clients of brokerages become trusted business partners and friends, thanks to the professional way their insurance business is transacted. To your broker, you are never merely a number.

On balance, when you weigh up the pros and cons of insurance from the Direct Marketer’s call centre or the professional broker alternative, the choice is clear.