Refugees and new migrants to Australia face a number of challenges getting up to speed with their new country and society. And it turns out that car insurance companies aren’t helping.
That’s the finding of a new report on settlement services in Melbourne’s western suburbs by community legal centre WEstjustice.
Among other issues, car insurance companies are failing to offer translation services and are doing very little in general to help new migrants and refugees understand how the car insurance market works.
Problems with both the sales and claims processes
WEstjustice legal director Joe Nunweek says the legal centre regularly encounters clients from other countries who are navigating the car insurance market for the first time.
He says that, in many cases, new migrants and refugees are sold unsuitable or unnecessarily expensive insurance products that they don’t understand.
In many cases new migrants and refugees are sold unsuitable or unnecessarily expensive insurance products that they don’t understand
“They may need more time to have processes explained to them and they will be extremely dependent on accurate, concise and timely verbal explanation from the insurer that correctly reflects their rights under their contract insurance,” he says.
Nunweek says that in many situations the legal centre has to get involved to help clients navigate their insurance claims process because of a lack of clear communication from the insurers about what is needed to make a claim in the case of an accident.
“Ideally you wouldn’t really need to get lawyers involved for something that’s uncomplicated. But what you see is there’s probably a combination of insufficient communication in simple English or translators at the beginning,” he says.
Migrants waiting months for repairs
Rallian Rengthland is a community settlement worker from Myanmar working in the Western Melbourne area of Wyndham.
He says he has seen dozens of clients wait months to get their cars repaired after an accident, because they’re not informed that they need to follow up with their insurers or mechanic repair shops.
“They just believe that they trust the insurance company and the community doesn’t know they need to follow up after they make the claim,” he says.
Some people are waiting for months with no car, they can’t go to work or do what they should be doing
Community settlement worker Rallian Rengthland
“Some people are waiting for months with no car, they can’t go to work or do what they should be doing.”
Rengthland says insurance company language interpreters are often hard to find, especially for smaller language groups like Burmese, and that interpreters are not always offered by companies from the outset.
“It should be easier to communicate, they should be making it easier for everyone,” Rengthland says.
Language barriers can make claiming on accident insurance extremely difficult for some.
Insurance Council responds
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), the peak body representing insurance companies, tells CHOICE in a statement that: “The insurance industry recognises the importance of customer inclusion, including access to general insurance for customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”
We asked whether insurance companies should always offer interpreters to clients with limited English during both the sales and claims handling processes.
The ICA did not directly respond, but pointed to the General Insurance Code of Practice which says “where practicable, access to an interpreter will be provided if requested by a customer, or if required to communicate effectively with a customer”.
The ICA also says that employees with customer-facing roles should be trained to identify when an interpreter is needed.
WEstjustice says more needs to be done
But Nunweek says their work shows that, in many cases, interpreters are not being offered when they are needed.
“Insurance companies say they offer interpreters all the time, but I think we need a pulse check and some data on how often that is really happening,” he says.
Insurance companies say they offer interpreters all the time, but I think we need a pulse check and some data on how often that is really happening
WEstjustice legal director Joe Nunweek
Nunweek adds that the insurance market is failing this cohort of people and that the detrimental effects – financial, legal and psychological – can be considerable.
“We see clients getting court summons show up at their door, when they thought they had dealt with the insurance matter. We see people thinking they are in trouble with the police and all the fear that comes with that,” he says.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.
Based in New York, Stephen Freeman is a Senior Editor at Trending Insurance News. Previously he has worked for Forbes and The Huffington Post. Steven is a graduate of Risk Management at the University of New York.