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EU Travel: Insurance

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 1 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice they will provide to United Kingdom residents planning to book holidays in European Union member states commencing after the end of March 2019 regarding health and travel insurance.

My Lords, the implementation period means that travellers can rely on arrangements currently in place until December 2020. The Government continue to strongly encourage all British nationals travelling abroad, including within the EU, to take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers their personal circumstances and meets their needs. In the unlikely event of no deal, travel insurance policies will remain valid. Customers concerned about their policy’s coverage should check their policy documentation or ask their provider.

With people planning holidays or other visits to the EU right now, airlines and ports are warning that there could be disruption, delays, cancellations and gridlock, and that could cause uncertainty over health and travel cover. Does the Minister acknowledge that this could lead to people finding themselves on the Continent without compensation for travel delays or cancellations or without health cover, and that that could be especially serious for vulnerable patients, such as kidney patients, who may be prevented from travelling? Can the Minister guarantee that the EHIC, of which 27 million are in circulation in the UK, driving licences and car insurance will continue to be fully valid after 29 March, and that losses arising from cancellation and disruption would not be deemed force majeure by insurers, leading to the denial of claims or big increases in premiums?

That is what we set out in the future relationship White Paper, where we say:

“The Government wants UK and EU nationals to continue to be able to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive healthcare”.

My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy has been party to publishing the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill to allow that to happen. We have also stated that we want to continue to have the same access for air flights and that we will grant permission for European airlines to travel to us. We would like to see that reciprocated. We would like to see reciprocated the passporting arrangements that we have offered and the temporary permissions regime. In all these things the UK Government have shown good faith in ensuring that all these arrangements are in place, and we now look forward to our European friends doing likewise.

My Lords, the Minister said health insurance would remain valid. However, without the EHIC, people with pre-existing conditions may not be covered and then suddenly after 29 March those insurance premiums may not be valid. Maybe he could just check and clarify that, because without the EHIC a lot of other insurances do not cover existing conditions.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is one reason why we always advise people to take out comprehensive travel insurance, even when travelling within the EU, because the EHIC covers only the basic element. We have been very clear that that is what we want, that is what we propose to legislate to allow to continue and that is what we expect, but we urge everyone to check with their insurer what cover is provided.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm two points, irrespective of the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations: first, the essential need for UK citizens passing the requisite number of days on the continent to register with the appropriate national authority—in my case, Portugal; and, secondly, that current OECD rules pertaining to residency will be adhered to post Brexit?

Of course, there are different rules for different member states, as the noble Viscount will be aware. Our standard position is to encourage all people spending time resident in an EU member state to register with that member state. Normally that means going to the town hall or the local police station to be issued with a card. There is no reciprocal requirement for EU citizens to register here, but that is one of our settled status proposals for EU nationals post Brexit.

Can the Minister confirm that guidance has been given to airlines to protect themselves from compensation claims by putting a disclaimer on all airline tickets dated after 29 March next year? Can he recall whether such guidance was mentioned during the leave campaign in 2016?

I have received no evidence that that has been proposed, and it is something that the regulators would look at seriously if that were the case. We have been quite clear that we want those important travel agreements to continue. UK nationals make 50 million non-business journeys to the EU each year, and they spend about £24 billion. It is very important for the EU that that continues to work post Brexit.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that not just individual travellers but schools are concerned about whether the EHIC scheme will continue past March next year?

I understand that they might have concerns, but I hope that they would be reassured. Not just the White Paper but the joint statement made by the UK and the European Union last December stated that reciprocal healthcare would continue. The European Commission has hinted that it recognises that it is in its interests that it should continue. The only thing missing is a clear statement from the Commission that that is its intent, and that is what we want.

My Lords, is not the only safe and responsible thing for the Government to do to advise people not to book holidays that involve travel and accommodation after 29 March? With all the chaos going on, I cannot believe that insurance will cover every eventuality.

I completely reject that. Many people look forward to their holidays. I am sure that next summer’s holiday will be one particularly enjoyed by those on our Front Bench. We want to take advantage of the wonderful holiday opportunities that there are in the European Union, we expect that to continue and believe that it will.

My Lords, before scare- mongering, should not the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, realise that too many visitors to his lovely Isles of Scilly would ruin them?

The point I was making in answer to an earlier question was that while 50 million from the UK travel on non-business flights abroad, 20 million come here. We want those good trading, friendship and family relationships to continue unhindered after Brexit day. That is why we are putting in place the technical notices, have put forward proposals and are bringing forward legislation.