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ombudsman news

issue 57

October/November 2006

ask ombudsman news

insuring satellite navigation systems

Should satellite navigation equipment be considered as "personal possessions" under a domestic contents policy - or as a "vehicle tool" under a motor policy-

an insurer

We've seen only a very few cases to date involving insurance cover for satellite navigation ("satnav") equipment, although we are getting an increasing number of enquiries about it.

It is for insurers - not us - to define the nature and scope of their cover. If insurers state clearly that they do not cover satnav equipment, that is a commercial underwriting decision and not a matter in which we would intervene.

In the few complaints we have seen to date involving satnav equipment, we have taken what we believe to be the common-sense view, where it has been unclear whether the device was covered under the contents or the motor policy. This is that if the device can only be used - and is only used - in a car, then (unless the insurer can establish a valid reason why not) it should be covered under the motor policy.

However, a device that can be used - and has been used - outside the car (for example, by walkers using it as a "GPS" - global positioning system) should normally be covered as a "personal possession" under a domestic contents policy - unless the insurer can establish a valid reason why this isn't appropriate.

In cases where an insurance policy fails to make clear which items are covered and which are excluded, we apply the interpretation most favourable to the customer, on the basis that the customer did not draft the contract. This is a long-established approach to the interpretation of unclear or ambiguous contract terms - set out both in common law and statutory regulations (for example, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999).

We believe it important that insurers adapt to advances in technology and new consumer trends - and ensure their policies are updated regularly to define clearly the scope of the cover they offer.

Any changes to existing cover should, of course, be highlighted when the policy is renewed, so there are no nasty surprises for customers in the event of a claim.

keeping it confidential

I felt I'd dealt very fairly with a complaint from one of my clients. However, it looks as though he's going to refer it to you. I've never had a complaint made to the ombudsman before and I'm rather concerned about the information you'll be wanting from me. Can I be sure anything I say will be treated in confidence-

an independent financial adviser

We will have regard to your rights of privacy - and we do not automatically copy to both sides all the information we have on a case. But in general, you should assume we may disclose to the customer any information you give us about the complaint.

If you think some of the information should be kept confidential between you and us, you should mark that information clearly and tell us why you don't think we should pass it on to the customer. We will consider your request but we may not agree to it - unless there is a strong case for confidentiality - such as security reasons.

We take the same approach to information the customer gives us. By signing our complaint form, the customer authorises us to exchange information with you about their complaint. We may publish information about complaints - for example, as case studies in ombudsman news - but we do not release the names of the individual consumers or businesses involved. And we are empowered to pass on information about businesses to the FSA or to other regulatory or government bodies, in certain circumstances.

For more information - take a look at the special section "information for businesses covered by the ombudsman service" on this website. This answers a wide variety of frequently-asked questions about the ombudsman service and how we operate.

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ombudsman news issue 57 [PDF format]

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.