The Can of Worms
It seems that the "dear old" life assurance companies, who manage the underperforming and useless endowment polices that are held by over 8 million people, are not content with the damage that these products have done to their reputations.
As if to further dig the knife deeper into this self inflicted wound, some of them are not spelling out clearly enough the time bar deadline on their "red warning letters".
That is at least the view of solicitors Beresfords, from Doncaster, who say that many "red letters" are failing to give adequate warning to policy holders about the time deadline for complaining.
Beresfords is preparing a report on the time limit issue to send to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), and the insurers which sold endowments. They state that up to half of the red warning letters do not identify the deadline.
Martin Ryan, the firm's compliance and regulation officer, is quoted as saying:
"In 50 per cent of cases there don't appear to be valid time bars..There seem to have been a lot of incorrect red letters going out - specifically not drawing the attention of the client to take action or setting no date by which action had to be taken."
Some insurers, ever mindful of their obligations to themselves, are using time bars as a blanket reason not to examine complaints sent to them.
The FSA will hold a meeting of industry bodies, this Friday, to discuss proposals on endowment compensation. It is expected to present research on how claims have been handled, which is believed to cast financial advisers and insurers in a poor light.
It is very clear that the life assurance industry is "closing ranks" on this issue, and will do everything it can to avoid facing the unpalatable truth that it has sold a product that was not fit for purpose.
Endowment polices, that are meant to pay off mortgages, do not work.
It is as simple as that.
As such the life assurance companies should underwrite them.
The life assurance companies whilst trying to bury their heads, and the heads of their policy holders, in the sand over this disgrace will face rather rude shock.
Raymond Donn, senior partner of law firm Donns in Manchester, is quoted as saying:
"We intend to challenge the time bars when the insurance companies start invoking them next year. A lot of people who have mortgages don't know if there is going to be a shortfall."
Martin Ryan, of Beresfords, believes that the industry will try to avoid precedents being set in court.
"At the moment we are talking of industry-imposed time bars..But if a judge got into it, a can of worms could open up for the industry. It would be the first time a judge ran the rule over it. And the industry could find that, in some areas, they might not be able to use time bars at all."
The life assurance industry is learning, whether it likes it or not, that reputations are hard to earn, but easy to squander.