Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Barclays Life Assurance Company Limited and Woolwich Life Assurance Company Limited


  Barclays Life and Woolwich Life are the insurance companies serving customers through the Barclays Group and have in excess of 11/2m life assurance and pensions contracts in force. Many Barclays customers purchase insurance to protect their Barclays mortgage arrangements (an area of specific concern to the Inquiry), though customers purchase contracts to meet a wide range of needs through the Barclays advisers. Barclays therefore carries a wider concern than that of an insurer to ensure that all customers are fairly and appropriately treated.

  While Barclays seeks to offer customers competitive contracts it is equally fundamental to customers' interests that its insurance companies be run in a secure and prudent manner, part of which is that its underwriting standards are appropriate and fulfil their objective to provide insurance at a fair price.


Q  What is your policy toward the use of genetic test results, and what are the reasons underlying it?

  Barclays Life and Woolwich Life fully supports and complies with the ABI Genetic Code of Practice. As such therefore, we do not request that individuals submitting a proposal for insurance should undertake genetic tests of any description.

  Individuals will have chosen to submit to genetic tests on their own account, presumably under the advice of their medical experts. Clearly for any individual who has previously taken a genetic test, there are instances, specified by the ABI, where evidence may be taken into account.

  For applications to provide mortgage life insurance cover, Barclays does not take into account any adverse genetic test results where the sum assured proposed is £100,000 or less.

  Commercial reasonableness demands that a submission for insurance by a customer has to be made on a basis of equal knowledge between the proposer and insurer. For the insurer this is a commercial decision between on the one hand, the competitive costs incurred in investigating this information, and on the other, creating a product demonstrating fairness in charges between customers. We believe that our approach meets those demands.

Q  What scientific advice have you based your decisions upon, and how reliable do you consider it to be?

  Our underwriting standards and individual decisions are based on the widest industry information. In particular we use reassurance manuals from major international firms whose recommendations are based on their own extensive data, both United Kingdom and overseas. In many cases our contracts will be reassured and hence our underwriting must meet standards acceptable to them also. In addition, we are fully aware of other relevant writings from knowledgeable underwriting medics such as those of Brackenridge. Individual cases involving genetic tests are discussed with our Chief Medical Officer and with our underwriter nominated under the ABI code as the Nominated Genetics Underwriter. Professor J A Raeburn, the genetics advisor to the ABI, is also available for consultation on specific cases. Medical underwriting when combined with actuarial rating standards determine the premiums for contract offers.

Q  The GAIC recently approved the use of results from the Huntington's Disease genetic test in the assessment of life assurance policies. If you generally accept the use of such results in assessing risk, do you anticipate using other genetic tests in the future and if so when? In particular, would you consider using test results for diseases which are not single gene defects, or where there are non-genetic influences (for example heart disease)? What factors would you base your decision upon?

  We believe that the ABI code of practice contains the necessary flexibility to adapt as genetic knowledge evolves but clearly the use in future of emerging new genetic tests would be dependent on the ABI ascertaining their approval by the Genetics and Insurance Committee and thence their relevance to medical underwriting. We do not believe that tests for diseases which are not single gene defects will be used in the foreseeable future.

  Currently, were we to learn of a genetic test result, not on the prescribed list, then unless the result gave a direct benefit to the proposer (ie in their favour), we would not take account of the information given by that test.

Q  How effective do you feel the current regulatory system is?

  Barclays has no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the current system of regulation by the ABI:

    —  The Managing Director has to certify our compliance with the code annually.

    —  Compliance with the code is a condition of membership of the ABI.

    —  Our Chief Medical Officer and our Nominated Genetics Underwriter will view every case featuring a genetic test.

    —  Applicants have a right of appeal where they consider themselves wrongly treated.

  We therefore believe that the code imposes on the industry a strict set of controls and checks.


  The ABI code is fully supported by Barclays as we believe that it represents an appropriate balance between the respective interests of society in general, and those of our existing and prospective policyholders.

  In many cases, disclosing a previous genetic test result can benefit the applicant. An applicant whose family has suffered from a genetic condition, and who has not had a test, might not be insurable. However, an applicant who discloses a previous negative (ie favourable) test result, showing that he/she has not inherited the condition, and who is otherwise in good health, would be insurable on normal terms.

  Without doubt it is necessary to keep developments in genetics under continuous review. Barclays therefore fully supports ABI in this role. Barclays Life is a member of the United Kingdom Forum for Genetics and Insurance.

  Barclays has recently announced an alliance whereby it will retail (from a date yet to be specified) the products of Legal & General Assurance Society Limited. It is our understanding that Legal & General also subscribe to the ABI Genetics Code of Practice.

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Prepared 3 April 2001