Insurers have promised to make it easier for people with mental health conditions to buy life, health and travel cover by setting out new standards designed to overcome common problems.

Research this year from mental health uk, a charity, showed that people with mental health conditions face big hurdles when buying cover. many find the questions distressing, especially those about mental health problems, while others complain that the insurers decisions are not well explained and there is little guidance on what to do next.

Some have been refused cover, or charged huge premiums for their life, health or travel insurance.

The majority of people who have a mental health problem [which needs to be disclosed] just dont understand the products and dont know where to get any independent advice, said sarah murphy, associate director for advice, information and training at mental health uk. theres a lack of knowledge.

In response, the association of british insurers, the industry body, together with mental health uk and the royal college of psychiatrists, has developed a set of standards designed to make the process easier.

They include promises to support customers who need help to complete application forms, better explanations of what is being asked and why, and more transparency about decision making.

We want to make insurance much easier to navigate for people with mental health conditions, said yvonne braun, director of policy for long-term savings and protection at the abi. its very much about how we can make the application process a less stressful experience.

She added that mental health uks research had shown that insurance is a black box and people dont really know whats about to happen and what might be coming their way in terms of questions.

The research from mental health uk found that more than half of people with mental illnesses wanted more clarity about how their conditions would affect their insurance, while almost two-thirds said that questions in the application were not handled sensitively.

One example, said ms murphy, was that applicants were asked about suicide and self-harm in the same question, when the two are not necessarily linked.

As long as firms implement [the standards] properly they should go some way to helping, she said. it covers the communication issue some people do feel awkward having to talk to a stranger over the phone.

Dr jed boardman, social inclusion lead at the royal college of psychiatrists, said that there had been a lot of inconsistency among insurers on how they deal with customers with mental health problems.

I would see this as a good first step in looking at the unfairness of insurance systems for people with mental health difficulties, he said, adding that the standards might create a greater awareness across the [insurance] industry of the problems people face.

He added: its going to be important for the abi to monitor this across insurers and to have a set of metrics to measure whats been going on.

The abi wants its members to implement the standards by the end of 2021.