My insurer said that driving from the station was commuting – and refused my claim

I work in London, live in Hertfordshire and take the train and then the tube to work.

I usually walk or cycle to the local train station before catching public transport to the capital, but sometimes I have to drive.

When I do this I usually take the family car, but one day last October I had to take our second car instead due to personal reasons. I was driving home from the train station when I had a low speed collision with a man walking in the middle of the road in the dark.

Police said the man was “clearly drunk” and that it wasn’t my fault and that he escaped without serious injury. His family even wrote to thank me for taking care of him after the collision.

So I was surprised to get a call from my broker, Hastings, in February saying the guy had made a claim.

The devil is in the details: The definition of just one word, ‘commuting’, is at the heart of the problem

Hastings told me that I was not covered by my Advantage insurance policy as my contract only covered ‘social, domestic and recreational’ (SDP) use.

Hastings claimed I was traveling home and therefore should have bought a ‘social, home, entertainment and travel’ (SDP+C) policy.

Surely “commuting” would involve driving my car to and from work, not a few miles of an 80 mile round trip to work and back?

I checked my policy and it defines it as “travel to and from a fixed place of work”.

Obviously I wasn’t doing that and I had to drive that car to the station that day for personal reasons that changed my normal travel pattern

I am concerned that I am facing a large legal bill and no insurance coverage.

This is Money’s Sam Barker responds: This whole situation revolves around answering one question: what is a commute?

For insurers, an SDP car insurance policy would cover the use of the car for daily driving trips such as visiting people, going to the shops, picking up children from school, etc.

The enhanced, usually more expensive SDP+C policy also covers commuting.

The reason insurance companies are interested in this is that there may be a higher risk to them when commuting, such as leaving a car parked and unattended in a public place for a long period of time or driving more kilometers behind the wheel.

The issue here is how “commuting” is defined, which varies widely between insurance companies.

Some, such as Comparethemarket, LV, Confused.com and Admiral, specifically say that driving to the station and leaving your car there counts as commuting.

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Others, including your own broker Hastings, are not so clear.

Your policy wording reads: “What’s not covered: Travel to and from a permanent place of work or study.”

To me, to you, and no doubt to many others, this sounds like you are not protected from using your car for the entire commute. It does not clearly say that you are not covered for part of it ie. driving to the station.

But Hastings blamed you and said you had “breached the terms of your political agreement”.

A Hastings employee told you: “Your policy is for social use only, but we understand that at the time of the collision it was being used to travel to Bishops Stortford train station for an onward journey to London for work.

“Therefore the ‘primary nature’ of the journey was to travel to/from your workplace.”

Obviously, this is incorrect about one thing – you were coming home from the station at the end of the day, not headed for it at the beginning.

Nevertheless, Hastings stood firm and told you that he would not cover the claim if he was successful, which could have left you with a very large bill.

This is Money has reached out to Hastings asking the firm to reconsider and agree to cover any legal bills arising from the claim, arguing that it is vague and unfair.

Hastings then agreed to fight the claim and cover the costs regardless, and said it would clarify its wording on what “commuting” means.

The broker said he tried to contact you, which you deny.

A Hastings spokesman said: “We are continuing to investigate the allegation and have attempted to contact your reader to discuss this on a number of occasions, unfortunately as we have been unable to contact her a standard letter has been sent.

“We would always prefer to discuss complex claims with our policyholders to confirm and clarify all aspects of the claim.

“We have already been able to speak to Jane and have discussed this fully with her, from this conversation we can now confirm that we intend to cover the costs of the claim.

“Overall, this approach is one we would take with all customers in this position, regardless of the wording of the technical policy (clarity on the commuting wording is now due for an update), although as you can imagine we will review each case on its own merits depending on the circumstances.

“It is our full intention to contest and defend the lawsuit brought by the third party, and we do not expect Jane to cover these costs.”

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