"There’s a body in the passage"

"There’s a body in the passage"

A KZN family’s funeral policy claim has thrown a spotlight on the way the industry handles its policy holder's claims in their hour of need. 


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The Mtshali family had been waiting four days for Old Mutual to pay out their funeral policy benefit; it was Friday afternoon and they desperately wanted to hold the funeral on Sunday. Without that pay-out, it couldn’t happen.

Old Mutual promises its customers that they will be paid out within 48 hours - two days. And four days on the company couldn’t tell them why the claim had been escalated for “assessment” or when they could expect their money.

That’s when they decided to dump the body of their relative, Sifiso Mtshali, at Old Mutual’s office in KwaDabuka. Old Mutual, which has since apologised profusely, says that it does keep that 48-hour promise in 99% of the 18,000 funeral policy claims it processes every month.

But the Mtshali family didn’t get that 99% experience.

The two women who were videoed carrying Sifiso Mtshali’s body into that office on Friday was his niece, Thandaza Mtshali, who took out the policy, and his aunt, Ntombenhle Mhlongo.

“I saw it fit to take the body to them while they were doing their assessment because that could have taken months,” Mtshali told TimesLive. “I thought it best for them to figure out where to put the body.”

The 18,000 funeral policy claims is a lot of deaths for one company to deal with every month, but the employees are used to doing so in a very detached, clerical, document-driven way.

I imagine a dead body in the passage was no doubt something new and very shocking for them. Within half an hour of the delivering the body, Mtshali got an SMS from her bank, Capitec, telling her the money was in her account. 

But Old Mutual insists the timing was pure coincidence.

Before those two women got to the office on Friday, the company had already put the payment in motion, making it for urgent clearance. But the SMS only landed on Mtshali’s phone about half an hour after they arrived, which made them believe that Old Mutual only paid because they arrived at the branch with the body.

“That’s very unfortunate,” said Tabby Tsengiwe, Old Mutual’s chief communications officer.

The company has admitted that the family was wronged, apologised, and vowed to re-look at their systems to make sure they don’t put another family through that.

Here’s the thing - if you break your promise to your customer, especially in their hour of need, don’t compound the problem by not telling them what the problem is, or when you are going to fix it. Families can’t be made to wait four days or more for their legitimate funeral policy pay-outs. It’s totally unacceptable.

I hope that this desperate gesture has been a wake-up call for the industry as a whole; forcing them to improve their service to those who make claims on their funeral policies, for fear of a copycat corpse drop.

Unsurprisingly, funeral policy-related complaints make up the biggest category of complaints received by the Long-Term Insurance Ombudsman - and growing every year.

Last year, they made up 41% of complaints, up from 37% in 2017 and 35% in 2016.

Caroline da Silva of the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) said in light of this case, the sub-committee it set up last year to review practices in the underwriting and payment in claims would be expanded to include the processing of funeral policies.

“It’s abhorrent a customer could feel so desperate that they go to those lengths,” she said.

But she warned people against responding by cancelling their policies.

“Vote with your feet if you want to,” she said, “but know that it will most likely have quite a big, negative impact on your life or investment policy.

“If you have developed a health condition since you took out the policy, a new policy will come with exclusions and a higher premium,” she said.

Da Silva urged people to report insurers which were giving them bad service to the FSCA: call 12 428 8000 or email [email protected]

Also read: If the cap doesn’t fit, you have no right of return at all

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

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