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TX: 09.10.03 – ENTREPRENEUR JOINS FIGHT TO STOP FINANCIAL SERVICES DISCRIMINATING AGAINST PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS


PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON


ROBINSON
The entrepreneur, Ivan Massow, was one of the first to see the potential of the pink pound. A decade ago he spotted the gap in the financial services market, companies were refusing to sell gay people insurance or give them mortgages because of fears about AIDS. Now he's teaming up with mental health campaigners, who say that people with mental illness face a similar sort of discrimination. It seems that insurance companies, building societies and banks routinely turn down applications by people who disclose any history of mental ill health. Diana Rose says she's experienced this approach first hand.

ROSE
The first time it was brought home to me was when I was due to go to Australia and I was due for a long visit for four months and in order to go for four months I needed a visa and to get a visa I needed health insurance and I could not get it. There was a blanket exclusion clause on having had a mental health problem, there was just no way I was going to get travel insurance if I had a mental health problem. Nobody asked me about any other medical condition, it was just about psychiatric difficulties.

ROBINSON
And that wasn't the only occasion when Diana was refused insurance.

ROSE
My partner and I decided that we would get a joint mortgage but we then discovered that to get a joint mortgage we needed joint life insurance and I couldn't find a firm that would cover me for life insurance, so effectively I wasn't an owner of the flat that we were living in.

ROBINSON
Diana Rose. The Manic Depression Fellowship say they've had so many calls from people saying that they've been turned down for travel insurance that they've negotiated a special insurance plan for their members. Mike Calver from the fellowship says that they can demonstrate that people with manic depression are not a high risk.

CALVER
Our membership have come some way down the road with the condition, they have a good understanding of the way in which the condition affects them, they take certain necessary precautions when travelling with their medication and with their sleep patterns and so on and subsequently the element of risk is taken away by that responsible approach. Claims to date over the four years of the scheme have actually been comparable to that of the general population, which of course is great evidence for us to show that our members are no higher risk than any other person accessing an insurance scheme.

ROBINSON
Mike Calver. Well Ivan Massow is here. As I said you've worked before to try to provide products for people who are gay, tell us about that.

MASSOW
In 1990, when I started my business, it was impossible to get life insurance and as a result mortgages because all mortgage companies insisted on life cover. Of course it was a gap in the market, but as a gay man it was more of a political campaign for me, a bit of a crusade and something I wanted to stop. So I set up a business, I must say in a very small way, though I tried to make it sound grander, I named a squat Lady Somerset House. But within a very short period of time that company became something like the tenth largest IFA in the country, over about the five years, because the need was so great and I was getting so many enquiries. One of the ways we were able to deal with it at the time was to first of all find friendly insurers who would provide cover but also persuade mortgage companies not to insist on life cover, especially for those people who were HIV positive and insurance was impossible to get.

ROBINSON
Well what's prompted you to get involved in trying to find similar products for people who have mental health problems?

MASSOW
I'm interested as a businessman in problem solutions, for problem solving, it's just what I do. But I chaired the MIND inquiry into social exclusion, which really touched me, and I must say I had a partner who suffered from slight mental health issues and unfortunately died as a result of them. I won't go into that too much. But that prompted me to get involved with MIND and run this inquiry. And the recurring phenomenon, the theme that came out, was - I mean of course there was exclusion in the workplace, there was prejudice in the media and people with mental health issues are always painted as being murderers and killers, in fact they're not. And the big issue was getting bank accounts or insurance or mortgages. And so when Lunescape - a new website that's starting up to help or to advise people with mental health issues - came to me and asked to partner on a new project to provide quality advice I couldn't resist.

ROBINSON
How will these products actually work? I mean is it that you'll be able to get insurance for everything other than your mental illness?

MASSOW
We're just the broker, that's all we do, so we just scan the place and the chances are if someone independently looked round they could probably find what we would find. But we get to know the individual underwriters and we chat them up basically and we make special deals with them. We also know who will exclude certain things, so for instance the caller - the person you were interviewing, we would one, never have given them a mortgage with a company who would have insisted on life cover, so we would have started from that position, just in case life cover wasn't - because sometimes it is impossible if someone has a big history of self-harm, it could be unfair on the insurance company, you have to consider both sides but as long as they can get their mortgage you're in the right place to begin with. And then perhaps a company that excludes - if there's a tendency towards suicidal behaviour, perhaps a company that excludes suicide. Lots of them don't, they just decline you and you just think this is the way the whole industry - but we of course have done lots of research and we'll be able to tell the customer exactly what they can expect and what the various options will be.

ROBINSON
And how close are you to actually being able to provide this service or is it still in development?

MASSOW
Oh, we're doing it - we do it all the time. At the moment Lunescape and I are building the website, so - but it's something we've doing - I've been doing informally ever since running the inquiry, which is six years ago or something like that. And so this kind of thing is very, very common for us now.

ROBINSON
IvanMassow thank you.





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