With service standards still fuelling many a debate in the insurance industry, claims handling is very much in the spotlight. And the debate shows no sign of abating.

The ABI, the GISC and the FSA all have clear guidelines on the way they expect the industry to conduct the claims process - the most recent being the ABI General Insurance Claims Code. The aim is to ensure that every policyholder is given fair and reasonable treatment.

Fair treatment starts with the policy wording. If the wording is clear and unambiguous, each party knows what they are getting. Insurance companies can't hide behind small print exclusions; policyholders - as was demonstrated recently - can't force plain English in their direction.

Claims, though, are not just about the insurance companies. There are many parties involved that work together to ensure the process is streamlined and the ultimate aim of fair treatment of policyholders is met. These parties include the investigators, the loss adjusters, loss assessors, repair and replacement specialists and solicitors. All parties have undergone change, however, as the industry consolidates and the effects of the Human Rights Act and the Woolf Reforms are felt.

Claims handling is central to quality and future business. If a company messes up at the claims stage, you can almost guarantee that it will lose that policyholder at renewal. How many times can a company, no matter how vast, really afford to do this?