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Insurance cover and mental health

Explains your legal rights when dealing with insurers, including whether you have to disclose your mental health problem and what this can mean for the insurance you're offered.

Do I have to tell my insurer about my mental health problem?

It's understandable to wonder if you should tell an insurer about your mental health problem or not. But if you don't answer questions about your mental health completely truthfully, and your insurer finds out, this could have some serious consequences.

For example:

  • Your policy could be cancelled or become void, resulting in any claim you make being dismissed, even if it's not related to your mental health problem.
  • You could be charged a lump sum fee to make up the difference between the rate you were paying and the rate you would have paid if the insurer had known about your mental health problem.
  • They may take legal action against you to recover the amount they paid out, if they find out after a claim has been settled.
  • You may find it harder to get insurance the next time you apply.

So it’s not a good idea to hold back information about your mental health if an insurer asks you about this.

If I tell them, could they treat me differently?

Yes, but only within the law.

When an insurer chooses whether to insure you or not, and how much to charge you, they are basing this on an assessment of risk. They are weighing up how likely it is that you’ll make a claim, and they’ll charge you more if they think you’re more likely to make a claim.

Because of this, it is lawful for an insurer to reject your insurance application if they can show there’s a greater risk of having to pay out a claim because of your disability.

But for this to be lawful, they need to show that they have used information that is both relevant and reliable, and that their decision has been reasonable.

The law that protects you from disability discrimination in England and Wales is the Equality Act 2010. This law determines when insurers can and can’t discriminate against you. Examples of discrimination could include refusing to cover you or charging you more because of your disability.

The Equality Act may protect you from discrimination if an insurer is basing decisions on, for example:

  • A disability that you used to have but don’t have any more, or
  • A disability that they incorrectly believe you have

See our page on disability discrimination for more detailed information.

Insurers make decisions about whether to provide cover, and how much to charge for it, based on their assessment of the risk involved. They need to ask you for information that is relevant in helping them assess specific risks.

For information to be relevant, there must be a connection between your mental health problem and whatever you are buying insurance for.

For example, if you apply for income protection insurance, the insurer will assess the risk of you losing your job (and them having to pay out on your claim). Your mental health might be relevant information, because it might affect the likelihood of you becoming unable to work.

If the information that the insurer relies on when assessing your application is not relevant though, then a decision to deny you cover or to charge you more would be unlawful discrimination.

Insurers must base their decisions on information from reliable sources. This could include:

  • Statistical data about risk or life expectancy
  • Medical research information
  • Medical reports

If the information the insurer uses is not reliable though (for example, if it’s out-of-date or from an unreliable source) the decision to refuse you cover or charge you more would be unlawful. Unfortunately, insurers won’t always be clear with you about the information they’ve relied on to make their decisions.

If you’ve been denied insurance cover, or if the insurance premiums you’ve been charged seem too high, see our information on what you can do if an insurer rejects your application or claim.

As well as basing their decisions on relevant and reliable information, insurers must also make decisions that are reasonable.

These are some examples of unreasonable decisions that could be considered unlawful discrimination:

  • If they charge you a premium that is out of all proportion to the risks your mental health condition presents, this is very likely to be considered unlawful.
  • If they justify their decisions based on generalisations about mental health conditions rather than information about your specific diagnosis, this is quite likely to be considered unlawful.
  • If they deny you cover or charge you higher premiums and don't adequately explain their reasons when you ask them, this might be considered unlawful.

Examples of unlawful discrimination by insurers

Steffi

Steffi applies for a mortgage protection policy when she is buying a flat. She is 33.

In her teens and early 20s Steffi experienced bulimia (an eating disorder) and severe depression. Her mental health problems amounted to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. She received treatment and has now lived for several years in recovery from her eating disorder, and without any severe depressive episodes.

The insurer rejects her application for a policy on the basis of her diagnoses in the past. The insurer has unlawfully discriminated against Steffi because of her past disability.

Geoff

Geoff has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. He is looking to take out home contents insurance.

The insurer asks him whether he has any health problems, and when he discloses his diagnosis it refuses to provide cover.

The insurer has unlawfully discriminated against Geoff because information about his mental health has no connection with the risk of making a claim under home contents insurance.

Can an insurer access my medical records against my wishes?

Insurers cannot access your medical records without your consent.

But if you tell them about a mental health problem, the insurer will often ask for further information from your doctor. They may also ask you to see an independent doctor that they choose. In this situation, you have the following rights:

  • The insurer needs your written consent to contact your doctor. Without this they are acting unlawfully.
  • You have the right to see a doctor's report about you before it is sent. This is the same whether it is your GP, another medical practitioner who has treated you previously, or an independent doctor that the insurer has chosen.
  • You can sometimes stop a report being sent if you are unhappy with it. This is the case with reports from your GP or another medical practitioner who has treated you previously. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case if the report comes from an independent doctor chosen by the insurer. In that instance you don’t have a right to stop the report being sent, even if you disagree with it.
  • You can ask your GP or other medical practitioner to change any part of their report if you feel it’s inaccurate or misleading. If they’re not prepared to make the changes you’ve suggested then you can write a written statement about what you feel is inaccurate or misleading, and you have a right for this to be attached to the medical report.

If you refuse to give written consent, ask your doctor not to send their report or say no to seeing an independent doctor, an insurer may refuse to insure you. Unfortunately, this is their legal right so there is nothing you can do about this.

What if the insurer asks me to make a ‘subject access request’?

Some insurers have been known to ask people to make a ‘subject access request’. This is where they access all of your medical records as a condition of providing insurance.

Forcing someone to make a subject access request in these circumstances is against the law. If an insurer asks you to do this:

See our legal pages on your personal information for more information about your other rights regarding access to your medical records.

What can I do if an insurer rejects my application or claim?

If you feel you have been treated unfairly by an insurer because of your mental health problem, there are a few things you can do:

Ask the insurer about their decision

If you feel that the insurer has given you inadequate information about why they’ve turned you down for an insurance policy, or why they’ve quoted a high premium, you could:

  • Contact the insurer to ask them what information they’ve relied on in coming to their decision.
  • Ask them to be specific about any medical report, statistical data or research material they have relied on.
  • Ask them to show you exactly how they came to their decision. They should be able to explain how the information they've relied on is connected to your mental health problem, and why they think their quote is reasonable. For example, if you have been quoted a 25% higher premium because of your mental health problem you can ask the insurer to show you exactly what information and specific calculations it has used to come up with that figure.

Get support

Complaints and legal processes can take a long time and may be stressful. If you think you might find the process difficult, you could:

Complain

If you're not happy with the insurer's explanation about their decision, you can make a formal complaint directly to the insurer. MoneyHelper has advice about how to make a complaint to a financial service. And their downloadable templates for complaint letters can be useful.

Insurers have eight weeks to respond to formal complaints. If they don’t respond, or you are not happy with how they deal with your complaint, you can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). The FOS also have a support line if you need any help during the complaints process.

The process can take time, so bear this in mind. If the FOS decide your complaint is valid, the insurer may have to give you an apology or compensation.

Take legal action

Depending on your situation, you may be able to take legal action against the insurer. As a first step, make sure you get legal advice from one of the following:

How much time do I have to take legal action?

If you want to make a legal claim, you must do this within 6 months (minus 1 day) of the incident occurring. If you have been refused insurance cover then this would be 6 months after the refusal.

If your complaint is about the level of premium you are being charged then you can argue that each payment of the premium is a ‘continuing act of discrimination’ but it is better to make a legal claim within 6 months (minus 1 day) of being quoted the premium.

If your legal claim succeeds, the insurer may have to provide you with compensation or agree to sell you insurance at a fair rate.

For more information on your legal rights, see our pages on disability discrimination.

This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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