National

Policy sold to intellectually disabled man

By AAP Newswire

An intellectually disabled man with Down syndrome was left distressed and apprehensive about answering his phone after being pressured into buying insurance he did not need or even understand.

A Freedom Insurance salesman kept the 26-year-old on the phone for 18 minutes, selling him accidental death and injury plus funeral cover, after having given up two days earlier when told his mother was not at home.

His father Grant Stewart was staggered when a letter about the insurance arrived at their Melbourne home in June 2016.

His son remembered talking to someone on the phone but that was about it.

"He was quite distressed about it and thought he had done something wrong, and seemed embarrassed and perplexed about the whole thing," Mr Stewart said.

A recording of the call played at the banking royal commission backed up Mr Stewart's contention that his son did not understand what he was signing up for or why his information was requested.

"He was being compliant and trying to be polite, but didn't understand," Mr Stewart told the inquiry on Tuesday.

Yet Mr Stewart struggled to convince Freedom to cancel the policy during frustrating conversations where staff insisted it was not apparent during the call that the son had a disability and tried to convince him to keep the insurance.

Mr Stewart eventually had to get his son on the phone to say he wished to terminate the policy.

A recording clearly showed him struggling to articulate the words, let alone understand them, as his father said.

Internal emails showed Freedom staff making light of and ridiculing Mr Stewart's complaint.

The Baptist minister would not repeat the words, describing them as not complimentary.

"There was some language there that I probably couldn't repeat in the pulpit so I chose not to," he told reporters.

Freedom apologised last month and again at the royal commission.

"Mr Stewart, to you and your son, I sincerely apologise that your son had to be put through that, and you have that from the bottom of my heart," its chief operating officer Craig Orton said.

"It should not have occurred."

Mr Orton believed the salesman "knew what he was doing" and it was inappropriate.

The sales agent "exited" the company after the Stewart call, with Freedom deciding not to have him back under his working visa after a trip home to the UK.

The inquiry heard the agent had been warned about his behaviour but at the same time was strongly encouraged to continue trying to hit sales targets and maximise his commissions.

Mr Stewart believes the experience affected his son's move to independent living, which happened this week.

"It's taken the last couple of years to, I think, restore some confidence for him to believe he could do that."