A conversation with his cleaner led one company boss to devise a scheme to help disabled people insure their vehicles. We find this North-West broker reaping the benefit

WIGAn-based broker KF Garner & Company has been catering for the adapted vehicle market, which helps people with disabilities affecting mobility, for nearly 20 years.

With 2,500 clients, Garner’s Mobility product is aimed at a specialist market. Most customers are wheelchair users whose cars have been adapted so that they can anchor their wheelchair in the vehicle, allowing the disabled person to be either driver or passenger.

The scheme, however, does not just cover wheelchair users but anyone who has had to adapt their vehicle because of a disability.

According to a Department for Transport estimate, there are up to two million licensed disabled drivers in the UK. Between 175,000 and 428,000 of these use adapted vehicles, and at least 37,000 are restricted to driving suitably adapted vehicles.

Modifications for disabled drivers can include securing straps and boot hoists for wheelchairs, hand controls, flip-style left foot accelerators, infrared controls, steering balls and extended pedals.

Developing a specialist product

KF Garner managing director John Neill comments: “Our Mobility product is for any modified vehicle, so if the customer has a mobility issue and a car that has been adapted, they do not have to describe in detail their disability when they are on the phone to us.

“Relationship is key to this scheme and their disablity may be sensitive for them. So long as they have some sort of mobility issue, and have altered their vehicle to accommodate that, they qualify for this product.”

Neill became managing director of the broker last year when KF Garner was acquired by CCV.

However, it was his predecessor, Kevin Garner, who devised the scheme after a conversation with his cleaner. He discovered that her sister had problems with transport because her disability affected her mobility and she needed to modify her vehicle accordingly. After doing so, she struggled to get insurance cover.

Garner investigated her options and realised there was an opportunity to add to his business by developing a specialist product that would provide cover for people in her situation. Thisled to the creation of the Mobility schemein 1991.

The scheme provides a full motor cover policy for users of modified vehicles, including automatic cover for visits to other EU countries for up to 60 days, a second car insurance discount, a three-year repair guarantee and roadside assisted cover backed by breakdown firm Green Flag.

There are also certain elements especially for customers in the disabled market, including up to £750 cover for wheelchairs and introductory guarantees for those who have driven under a lease from Motability, a charity scheme that helps disabled people to buy or lease specialised vehicles. Basic cover is available from about £200, but the average quote is about £400-£450.

‘Insurers did not understand’

The scheme was originally underwritten by Commercial Union, later Norwich Union, before moving to Zurich Insurance. It is now set to move forward with Equity Red Star, the UK’s fifth largest motor insurer.

In the early stages, insurers were hesitant about the scheme. Neill says: “The challenge initially was that insurers did not understand the risk and did not want to know. However, when the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into effect in the mid-1990s it made it much harder for the industry to ignore the issue. It had to cater for people with these needs.”

The DDA put in place many measures designed to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Most importantly, it established that it was illegal for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, any service which they provide or are prepared to provide to other members of the public. This applies to a number of financial services, including insurance.

Staff understand the customer’s position

Beyond the various features of the Mobility scheme, Neill believes it is the team at KF Garner that has led to its continued success.

He explains: “It’s absolutely essential for us to have a sense of empathy with the customers around their mobility issues.

“When someone rings up and they need a quotation for this policy, it’s not like talking to someone just ringing up about a quote for their Ford Escort. It’s very important to them.

For a lot of our customers, their cars are their lives.

“So for me, it’s not just the product we have, although obviously that is important: it is having the staff that, because of their experience, understand the position the customers are in.

“That really makes it special. We have had the same team working in this department for about 20 years and it’s having that expertise to depend upon that really makes the scheme work.”

Neill wants to take that combination of product and service, and use the new-found marketing clout that KF Garner will have as part of CCV, to draw more attention to the scheme.

He says: “This product is a national product and we do have customers all over the country.

“KF Garner, however, was essentially a small provincial broker. It was very good at what it did but perhaps did not market the scheme as effectively as it could have done.

“We want to use the resources to which we now have access as part of CCV to increase that exposure and make sure that customers nationwide know that this service is here.”

Guaranteed replacement vehicle is a unique selling point

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 had several effects on KF Garner’s Mobility scheme. As well as making insurers more willing to accept it, managing director John Neill says that it increased competition.

He explains: “It opened up the market so there are more players now providing similar products.” At the same time, the DDA led to more people having access to adapted vehicles, so the effects were balanced out.

Neill says: “Not only does that mean that there are potentially more customers who would be interested in the product, but because of the larger number of adapted vehicles available, it means we can guarantee a replacement vehicle as part of the policy.”

This is a unique selling point of the Mobility scheme. According to Neill, it is the only policy available that guarantees customers a replacement adapted vehicle in the event of a loss.

Neill says: “If the customer has a crash, some providers find it very difficult to source a car that has the required modifications for various needs. This is the only policy that provides that amount of cover.“

The scheme also offers new-for-old replacements for any modifications to vehicles. Neill says: “If it needs replacing, anything – such as putting lifts into tailgates – is covered by the scheme. It’s not just the modification itself but the labour costs. The product covers all of that.” IT