Saving money on pet insurance – how to get the right cover

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Buying pet insurance can be complicated. You can insure a crossbreed cat or crossbreed dog for a few pounds a month, but you can easily spend a lot more. So, how easy is saving money on pet insurance – and getting the right cover?

Types of cover

The premium you pay will depend on several factors, such as the age and breed of your pet. But it may also come down to the type of cover you have. There are three ways that an insurance company may insure your pet:

1. Cover for life/lifetime cover

This means that if your pet gets a long-term illness (such as diabetes or arthritis) the insurance policy will pay out for as long as he or she needs treatment. It’s generally the most expensive insurance – although it’s not always a lot more than other types of policy.

SAVVY TIP: Don’t confuse cover for life with companies that will continue to insure your pet beyond a certain age; it’s not the same thing. Some will still insure your pet, but will exclude a condition that he or she has suffered from in the past when the policy comes up for renewal.

Several insurers offer cover for life, including:

Argos up to £7,000 per year vet’s fees cover.

Direct Line: up to £8,000 per condition vet’s fees cover per year.

Lifetime Pet Cover: up to £10,000 cover per year. There are five different levels of cover from £1,000 to £10,000.

LV: up to £10,000 per year vet’s fees cover.

M&S Bank pet insurance: up to £7,000 a year vet’s fees cover. You can choose an excess level of £50, £100 or £150 if your pet is up to nine years old, or £150, £200 or £250 if your pet is nine or over at the start of its treatment.

More Than:  up to £12,000 per year vet’s fees cover.

Petplan pet insurance: There are different ‘covered for life’ policies with £4,000, £7,000 or £12,000 a year in vet’s fees. The excess levels vary depending on the policy you choose.

RSPCA up to £12,000 per year vet’s fees cover or you can choose a policy with £4,000 or £8,000 per condition cover.

Sainsbury’s Bank: up to £7,500 or £13,000 per condition vet’s fees cover .

Tesco Bank pet insurance: up to £7,500 or £10,000 per year vet’s fees cover.

SAVVY TIP: Tesco Bank prefers to use vets from its ‘network’ of referral centres. If you use a referral centre that’s not on its list, you’ll have to pay an excess of £200 on top of the normal excess you have to pay. There are different excess levels that you can choose.

Virgin up to £6,000 per condition vet’s fees cover.

2. Cover per condition

Here you can claim a certain amount for each condition your pet gets in a year. It may be better to choose a policy with this limit than than a straight annual limit because, if your pet gets two unrelated illnesses, you might find you go over your annual limit quite quickly. Try and find a policy with a reasonably high limit on vet’s fees.

SAVVY TIP: Lifetime cover be on a ‘per condition’ or ‘per year’ basis.

3. Cover per year

Most insurers offer policies that have an annual limit on the cost of treatment. Don’t cut corners by opting for a low limit on vet’s fees if you can avoid it. The worst thing would be to find that, halfway through treatment, you’ve used up your insurance cover.

SAVVY TIP: If you don’t know where to look for pet insurance, try pet club or magazine forums or ask other pet owners. Vets are not allowed to recommend pet insurance unless they’re authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority or act as an introducer for an insurer.

Saving money on pet insurance – how to get the right cover

I’ve never believed that buying insurance is as easy as getting the cheapest policy. You can definitely get pet insurance for a few pounds a month but, in my view, it could be a false economy.

SAVVY TIP: If you have a lot in savings and can afford to pay vet’s bills, you may not need pet insurance at all. But if you view your pet as one of the family and would rather it had expensive treatment than be put to sleep, pet insurance could pay for life saving (or life changing) treatment.

Before you buy a pet insurance policy, I’d suggest you get answers to the following questions:

1. What’s the excess level (the first amount of any claim you have to pay)? Will the excess increase once your pet is a certain age?

SAVVY TIP: Some insurers impose an excess that’s a flat rate (such as £50 or £75) while others have an excess that’s a percentage of the value of the claim. If it’s 15% or 20% of the cost of treatment, you could have to find hundreds of pounds to pay the excess. A number of insurers will impose a higher excess once your pet is a certain age.

2. What’s the upper age limit for insuring your cat or dog for the first time? Some insurers won’t take on a dog or cat for the first time if they’re 10 or 11. However some insurers have a younger cut off age.

SAVVY TIP: Some insurers have a lower age cut off for certain breeds of dog. It could be as young as six.

3. How quickly does the insurance company generally pay out? This can vary and some cases can be more complicated. But, speaking to vets, some insurers have quite a bad reputation for paying on time and others were praised.

SAVVY TIP: If your pet insurance company takes a long time to pay out, not only is it frustrating because you may have to keep chasing it, but it could mean that vets will insist that you pay their bill upfront rather than let the pet insurer settle it direct.

4. Does the insurer employ any specialists such as vet nurses or veterinary surgeons? Some insurers employ vet nurses and vets at their call centres. This can cut down on the faff and toing and froing as they should know what you’re talking about from the outset.

5. Will referral centres take payment direct from the insurance company? If your pet is referred to a specialist centre for tests or an operation, the cost could really mount up. Complex operations can cost several thousand pounds.

SAVVY TIP: Talking to vets, some referral centres insist on payment upfront from the pet owner if their pet is insured with certain pet insurance companies that don’t have a good reputation for paying on time or because they tend to quibble or don’t pay legitimate claims.

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