Cheap Pet Insurance
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There's no NHS for pets, so if Tiddles or Rover suffers illness or injury it can cost £100s or £1,000s in vets' bills – leaving pet owners with some horrid choices. And with the average pet insurance claim hitting £822 according to the Association of British Insurers, we've put together this guide on how to find cheap pet insurance. We've also help if you're struggling to pay premiums due to coronavirus income shocks.
Find cheap pet insurance – 1 min read
Here's a quick lowdown if you know what you're doing and just want to find a cheap policy – alternatively, if you need a bit more help, you can read our full guide below:
1. Check comparison sites to benchmark the cheapest price for your cat or dog. Comparison sites don't all cover the same insurers, so try as many as you've time for. Try Compare The Market* (single pet quotes only), then/or Confused.com*, MoneySupermarket*, Gocompare* (all let you do multi-pet quotes).
2. Then get quotes from direct insurers and find MSE exclusive deals. Try Direct Line* and Petplan*, as you won't find them on comparison sites. You also won't see some special cat/dog insurance deals – see hot deals comparisons miss.
What is pet insurance?
Pet insurance is mainly about having cover to pay the veterinary fees in case your furry – or non-furry – friend needs medical treatment for a broken bone or an illness.
On top of this, a pet insurance policy will usually include liability cover (in case your pet causes an accident and you are held responsible) and loss or theft cover – but this does depend on the type of policy, and level of cover.
In short, pet cover can be broken down into three different types depending on the level of cover you want. They have hideously complex names which vary by insurer, but there are generally three main levels of cover:
- Basic policies. These usually have a time limit of 12 months of treatment, and a maximum payout, for each different condition. Once you reach either limit, you'll no longer be able to claim for the same condition in future.
- A mid-level policy. These policies cover treatment up to a maximum amount per condition (usually about £3,000) during the term of the policy, with no time limit on how long your pet can have treatment for.
- Comprehensive policies. These have the highest payout limit. It is usually called lifetime cover and though payout limits apply per year, per condition, these are usually reinstated each year at renewal, so these policies will be best value if your pet develops a recurring or chronic condition.
Nine pet insurance need-to-knows
But even if you've got plenty of cash stashed away for emergencies, insurance can often work out cheaper (in the event you need to claim), so before you buy, here are nine things you should know...
1. Not insuring your pet could end up costing you £1,000s – think how you'd pay if you didn't have cover
Vet fees are already expensive, and rising year by year – with the average claim hitting a whopping £822 in 2020 (bearing in mind an X-ray can exceed £200, and chemotherapy can hit £5,000).
If you're lucky, you won't have faced fees for out-of-the-ordinary treatments, so here are some examples of what you could be looking at:
My cat has had £10,000 worth of treatment in the past two years, all paid for by insurance. He would be dead now if I hadn't had insurance.
- Debbie, via Facebook
When our cat fell ill last summer the bill shot up to £3,000 in less than 48 hours. Every penny (aside from the excess) was reimbursed by our insurer.
- Ruth, via Facebook
The question is – could you afford to pay for vet fees at the drop of a hat by not having insurance? If not, it's something you should strongly consider.
Self-insurance is where, instead of paying premiums, you regularly put money away yourself, so if your moggie or doggie gets poorly, there's money to pay for it.
To earn some interest, put money in an easy-access or a regular savings account each month to pay for any potential pet emergency. Of course, if there are no problems, you get to keep the cash. However, there are two big dangers to consider:
The problem strikes before you've built up cash: Self-insurance relies on having enough cash to hand when the vet needs paying. The risk here is if your pet needs expensive treatment before you've saved enough, it could mean you get into debt or face the sad choice of putting your companion down. Another option is to go for a policy with a high excess and ensure you save enough money to cover it should you have to make a claim.
You get sued: Dogs aren't covered for public liability without insurance, so if Rex causes a car accident, and the drivers sue, you'll be liable for the cost. This may be covered on your home insurance but quadruple-check this before taking the risk. Cats are considered 'free spirits' by law and so, as an owner, you're not legally responsible for their actions.
A halfway house for dog owners is to become a member of the Dogs Trust. The charity offers third-party only cover among its perks for a £25/year membership fee (it's £750 for life membership), or £12.50/year if you're over 60. Anybody over the age of 18 can become a member.
This covers you up to £1 million for any damage or injury caused to other people, their property or pets by ALL the dogs you own (though if you own a breed deemed to be a 'dangerous dog', it's very likely to be excluded).
Bear in mind £1 million is a low amount compared with most cover levels for personal liability – if people sue for loss of earnings, the amounts can snowball fast.
As a rule of thumb, and it does depend on your individual policy, pet insurance covers the big, non-routine costs, including:
- Broken bones/injuries from accidents
- Many illnesses, from cancer to asthma, skin infections to bone diseases and arthritis
- Third-party liability cover
- The cost of advertising and a reward if you fall victim to dog/cat-napping
What does pet insurance usually exclude?
Your pet likely won't be covered for the following:
- Routine injections such as flu, tetanus, parvovirus, annual boosters
- Routine check-ups
- Worming treatments
- Anti-flea medications
- Whelping costs
Typically, you also won't be covered for pre-existing conditions if switching to a new policy, though ongoing problems should continue to be covered by your current insurer.
There are exceptions to what each pet insurer will pay out for, so it's important to check the small print when taking out a policy.
Pet insurance, or self-insuring by putting money aside in a savings account, could prove expensive if you're short on cash. However, charities such as the PDSA, Blue Cross and the RSPCA may be able to help.
These charities offer free or subsidised vet care for pets whose owners are on certain means-tested benefits, among other criteria. As charities, though, they rely on donations to continue their work and some, such as Blue Cross, actively ask for a contribution towards costs.
5. You can't get insurance for some pets, eg, 'aggressive' dog breeds or those with hereditary conditions
Dog breeds deemed to be more aggressive than others often can't be insured, such as pit bulls, Japanese tosas and Brazilian mastiffs. If your dog was crossed with any of these, it won't qualify.
It's also difficult to get standard pet insurance for pets used for commercial purposes such as racing, hunting or farming.
If you've a posh pooch, certain pedigree breeds are more likely to develop hereditary conditions. For example, some suffer from weak joints or hips due to generations of being inbred, and can require regular support and treatment.
Some policies specifically exclude treatment for hereditary conditions, so check to see whether this is the case. Many insurers also exclude conditions animals are born with.
As a rule, pedigree owners pay more as insurers factor in their tendency to run a higher risk of long-term conditions, plus their heightened appeal to pet burglars. Never lie about your pet's origins to save money on monthly premiums; declaring a dog a mongrel when it's anything but can void your policy and see any potential claims being rejected.
When you take out a new policy, most insurers won't cover your pet for pre-existing conditions, both chronic problems that they need regular treatment for, and historic injuries/illnesses.
So if you're still claiming for a particular treatment on your current insurance policy, and haven't yet hit the maximum amount or 'length of time' payout, or you have a top-end 'lifetime' policy which does not have these exclusions, you may be better off staying put.
However, you can still switch to a new insurer as long as you're prepared to accept your pet won't be covered for the ailment it's already been treated for.
For example, say your dog suffers cataracts in both eyes and is cured, with the treatment covered by your existing insurer. The cost of the cataract treatment may well have reached a specified limit but this won't stop you from switching away to a cheaper policy with the same T&Cs as your existing insurer – just be aware that your new insurer will now treat the cataracts as a pre-existing condition, and will exclude it.
You may also decide the cost of the existing policy is now so high, you are prepared to take the risk of switching to a cheaper policy and hoping the old injury or illness does not reoccur.
And remember, it’s important to declare all pre-existing conditions – even if your new insurer is likely to exclude them – to avoid the chance of invalidating your policy.
7. Getting cover for older pets is harder, will cost more and you'll usually foot more of any vet's bill yourself
The older your pet, the pricier it becomes, and some policies start to impose an upper age limit as well as additional contribution costs (known as 'co-payment' in the insurance world) should you make a claim.
Here are three main things to look out, and be aware of:
- Ageing pets cost more to insure. The age, combined with the breed, of your pet affects the price you need to pay. This information helps the insurer calculate the likelihood of your pet becoming ill, or picking up an injury. And as that increases with age so does the cost of insuring your pet.
- It's harder to get cheaper cover for an old pet as there is less choice of policies. Once your pet hits a certain age – which varies from insurer to insurer, and depends on your pet – you might have trouble switching policies. For example, many insurers will say a cat or dog needs to be nine years old or younger when your policy starts with them, meaning you're then stuck with your current insurer.
- A claim's payout may not be as comprehensive as you thought. This is not something that is always made easy to read in a policy. Not only are you expected to pay more for the insurance once your pet gets older, many policies also state you must pay 20% of any treatment cost – on top of the excess – once your dog or cat reaches a certain age.
For example, if you have a £500 vet's bill, you may be asked to pay 20% of the bill (£100) because of the age of your pet, on top of the policy excess (eg, £100) – meaning your contribution has doubled from £100 to £200, and almost half of the bill.
If you have one of these clauses in your policy, your share of the 'co-payment' can turn very costly, very quickly.
It is therefore important you scrutinise the small print of the policy as the co-payment condition is usually found in the main body of the policy document instead of next to the excess that appears on your schedule.
- Ageing pets cost more to insure. The age, combined with the breed, of your pet affects the price you need to pay. This information helps the insurer calculate the likelihood of your pet becoming ill, or picking up an injury. And as that increases with age so does the cost of insuring your pet.
8. Typically the higher the excess (the amount you pay towards treatment), the smaller the cost of the cover
Changing the excess you pay – the amount you immediately contribute towards any claim – can typically cut the cost. Pay a higher excess, and your willingness to foot a greater part of the bill means the insurer will reward you with a lower premium.
To decide on your excess, consider how much it would have to cost you before you were happy to claim on the policy. If you wouldn't bother claiming for less than £200, for example, choosing a £50 excess is pointless.
Many insurers often offer a 5-10% discount if you insure two or more cats or dogs at the same time (on a so-called multi-pet policy). However, don't let it stop you looking for a better, cheaper policy elsewhere. After all, 10% off is no good if you can get two individual policies elsewhere for 12% less.
Three comparison sites, Gocompare*, Confused.com* and MoneySupermarket*, will let you get quotes for multiple pets. They also allow you to combine cats and dogs on to one policy, and include any multi-pet discounts. You won't be guaranteed the cheapest premium doing this, but it'll help make life easier to compare against individual policies.
You can also go direct to the following insurers which give multi-pet discounts – Argos*, Direct Line*, More Than and Petplan*. Then use our full comparison system outlined below for each pet to compare the overall cost.
How to get cheap pet insurance
So now you know the basics of pet insurance, here are the steps you need to follow to ensure you find the cheapest price possible, for the cover you want.
What you'll pay as a premium will differ hugely, depending on variables including your pet's age, its pedigree and where you live (vet bills are higher in London and the south east of England). Once you've decided which cover suits you and your pet, you're ready to compare prices.
WARNING! The old "read the small print" adage really applies here. If you buy the wrong policy that doesn't provide the cover you thought it did, you could be faced with the awful decision of losing a pet or getting into expensive debt if you can't afford it.
If you have a cat, dog or a combination of both, pet insurance comparison sites can help, as these zip your details off to a number of insurers' and brokers' websites to find the cheapest quotes. As no single site captures the entire market and prices vary, combining a number of sites is the best way to make a saving. It's best to use as many as you have time for.
For any other pets, such as rabbits, budgies, snakes, horses etc, there are NO comparison sites available, so instead we've included a list of providers that can insure your pets.
The most commonly owned pets are cats and dogs – and they're also the simplest to insure.
Start by visiting the comparison sites, which zip your details off to a number of insurers' and brokers' websites to find the cheapest quotes. As no single site captures the entire market and prices vary, combining a number of comparisons is the best way to make a meaningful saving.
It's best to use as many as you've time for, so we've ranked them in order of the sites that have the most providers on its list.
Boost chances of finding a cheap quote even further
Quotezone* may not have the biggest list of insurers, but it's easy to tweak elements of your quote such as the excess.
Get quotes from insurers comparisons miss
Comparison sites let you compare many insurers quickly, but they don't capture the entire market. Some large insurers only offer their products directly, while others offer special deals not available via comparison sites.
So benchmark your cheapest cat or dog comparison quote against prices and deals offered by the following to see what's right for you.
Buy a new pet insurance policy for your cat or dog via this Waggel* link by 11.59pm on Mon 19 Apr and you can get an Amazon voucher. The voucher's value depends on the policy you buy:
- Single cat policy: £20 Amazon voucher
- Single dog policy: £55 Amazon voucher
- Multi-cat policy (in a single household): £35 Amazon voucher
- Multi-dog policy (in a single household): £110 Amazon voucher
- Combination of at least one dog and one cat (in a single household): £75 Amazon voucher
The voucher will then be emailed about 60 days after the policy start date.
There is no limit on the number of vouchers you are entitled to, as every new Waggel policy purchased (it must be a new quote, and not a retrieved or saved one) via our link will qualify for a voucher.
Bear in mind Waggel is a new addition to our pet insurance guide and we have little feedback to share on this firm, so do let us know your experiences.
We've blagged you 3,000 Clubcard points (worth up to £90 in Clubcard Reward Partner vouchers) when you go via this Tesco Bank* link and buy a new standard, extra or premier pet policy. Provided you don't already have a Tesco Bank pet policy, the points should be credited to your account about 80 days after the policy start date.
New customers who buy a Classic or SelectPlus Co-op* pet insurance policy by 11.59pm on Tue 31 Aug will get a free pet hamper for their cat or dog, plus the standard 20% off online discount. The dog hamper includes a lead, balls, chew bone and toy. For a cat, it comes with a comfort mat, feeding bowl, collar and a teaser stick.
You should receive details of how to claim your hamper within 90 days after the policy start date.
There are no comparison sites for these pets, so it's a question of elbow grease and getting the quotes yourself. We've listed a couple of sites to check. Please tell us about your experiences with them, or if you've found other insurers to be helpful.
Yet before you start – while it's not a pleasant thought – given the type and cost of animals in this category, it's worth considering in the cold light of day what your attitude would be if it became ill, no insurance was in place and you had to make a decision about putting the animal down. An alternative here is self-insurance.
This is why you need to consider carefully the costs involved in ensuring a pet's welfare before taking one on. Try these sites...
Exotic Direct* gives quotes for a wide range of exotic, and not-so-exotic pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, gerbils, ferrets, birds and more.
Big name pet insurer Petplan*, which provides cover for cats and dogs, also insures rabbits – the next most popular pet. It's worth a look, plus buy online and you get a 10% discount.
There are more than 900,000 horses and ponies in the UK, and an estimated £3,000 to £10,000 is spent on each horse, depending on its stabling. Given the cost and length of their life, insurance is definitely worth considering. Top insurers and brokers include:
SEIB is a good option as it doesn't just give cover for the animal and any public liability, you can also opt to cover trailers, horseboxes, riding harnesses etc too.
Petplan Equine* is a branch of pet insurer Petplan. It offers different policies for younger or 'veteran' horses and ponies.
Many MoneySavers have reported good experiences with NFU Mutual – it covers horses (including veterans) and is worth a check.
Animal Friends* offers cover that can be tailored to different circumstances. It also has a good comparison table of its products.
By becoming a 'gold member' of The British Horse Society, you will automatically be covered for up to £30 million of public liability cover and various levels of personal accident cover.
From skunks to sugar gliders and possums to pot-bellied pigs, you'll need to try a specialist operator – in particular, to protect against burglars targeting rare or valuable creatures.
If you've a python worth £600, for example, pay extra special attention to what gets paid out on death or theft. If you have a tarantula, and like to show it off, perhaps consider third-party insurance in case it takes a chomp out of one of your guests. Or then again, ensure the tank is very secure (Martin's sister wishes she'd taken this advice!).
The insurer below is the only one we've seen so far offering to insure the more weird and wonderful varieties – please tell us about your experiences in the forum or let us know about other insurers.
Exotic Direct* offers cover for a huge array of out-of-the-ordinary critters, including parrots, cockatoos, snakes, lizards, terrapins, vultures, pot-bellied pigs and loads more.
Always keep an eye out for some of the same policy tricks as for more mainstream pets – different levels of excess, payout limits and pre-existing conditions. Read the top tips above for more on what to look out for.
Before committing to anything, once you've found a cheap quote, it's worth seeing if your existing insurer will match it, or at least get close to it – especially if your pet's had treatment or has a pre-existing condition which wouldn't be covered if you switched. For general haggling tips, read our Car and Home Insurance Haggling guide.
Once you know which your cheapest provider is, check you're not missing out on any cashback deals by looking to see if the insurer appears on a cashback site.
Bear in mind though that there is no guarantee that the quote will be the same going through a cashback site as it is via a comparison site. So check the cost carefully.
And it's important to be aware that the cashback comes from the cashback site, not the insurer, so getting the cashback relies on the deal 'tracking' correctly (for more on this and these sites, see Top Cashback Sites).
Things you need to know about cashback sites...
- Never count the cashback as yours until it's in your bank account. It is never 100% guaranteed, and there can be issues with tracking and allocating the payment.
- Withdraw the cashback as soon as you're allowed. Money held in your cashback site account has no protection at all if that company went bust, so always withdraw it as soon as you can.
- Clear your cookies. While it shouldn't be a problem, there is a minor risk that the cashback may not track due to cookies – so it's good practice to clear those first (read about cookies).
After doing the comparisons and finding the cheapest quote that suits your requirements, it's crucial you double-check the quotes directly on the insurer's own website. To speed up searches some comparison sites can make assumptions, which may not fit your profile.
Coronavirus: Help with pet insurance costs
If you're struggling to pay monthly premiums for your pet insurance due to financial difficulties caused by coronavirus, there's help available if you ask for it.
In general, when you get in touch, your insurer will need to see if it can make your policy cheaper as a first move. For example, in car insurance it might adjust the mileage on your policy, or drop the 'key cover' add-on. Yet pet insurance is simple with few add-ons, so there are unlikely to be big savings in reviewing your cover.
While any help you get will be based on your individual circumstances, measures your insurer might offer could include:
- Reviewing your policy. The first port of call. Your insurer would look at whether you can drop extras you may not be using. It could also look at whether a cheaper policy with lower cover levels may be suitable.
- A period of reduced payments. If you can pay something but can't make the full contractual repayment, your insurer or 'premium credit lender' – the company that gives you a 'loan' meaning you can pay monthly premiums rather than annual – may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, likely to be short-term only.
- A payment deferral. Likely to be a short-term measure only. This may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as a repayment plan.
- Waiving or reducing interest. If you can't meet your monthly payments, the insurer or lender needs to make sure the amount you owe isn't rising out of control, so it may need to cut or waive the interest.
- Agreeing a repayment plan. Where your insurer or lender works with you to set up a plan that doesn't meet contractual repayments, but allows you to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time.
However, the Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates this industry, says insurers and lenders SHOULD report any further 'forbearance' (ie, help such as extra payment deferrals) to credit reference agencies. Insurers will need to let you know if the support they're offering you would have an impact on your credit report.
The Association of British Insurers has confirmed that due to limited access to vets' surgeries, insurers have agreed to be flexible on policy conditions, particularly on the requirement for insured pets to have up-to-date vaccinations and regular dental examinations. However, you'll be expected to arrange appointments for these as soon as reasonably possible if the surgery's reopened.
How to complain about your insurance provider
The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer-service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but, if not, then…
Pet insurance FAQs
It's compulsory to have any dog over the age of eight weeks microchipped in the UK. Failure to comply can land you with a £500 fine and more trouble with the law.
Microchipping helps owners get reunited with lost pets. A scannable chip is inserted under its skin, then registered. It means the pet can be returned to its owner if it gets lost and is then found.
Always ensure your pet has the proper vaccinations, supplied by a vet, and you're provided with certificates. If you don't bother, or forget to keep your pet up to date with routine jabs, it could mean you aren't covered, and it could invalidate your insurance.
Fortunately, the Association of British Insurers have confirmed that due to limited access to veterinary surgeries because of Covid-19, insurers have agreed to be flexible on policy conditions, and particularly the requirement for pets to have up-to-date vaccinations and regular dental examinations – but they expect you to arrange an appointment as soon as reasonably possible.
Once you are able to get your pet vaccinated, remember to keep your vaccination certificates in a safe place – you might need to produce them if you need to make a claim.
Some pet insurers extend their cover abroad – if you regularly travel with your pet, it'll be worth considering this add-on, which usually covers vet fees of up to £1,000. Some insurers will also cover the cost of replacing your pet's travel documents, or quarantine costs incurred as a direct result of you losing any documentation. Holiday cover can also be arranged in the event you want to cancel your trip completely, or curtail it and come home – to help with the cost of travel and accommodation expenses.
The process of taking your pet to Europe and Northern Ireland has changed following the end of the transition period put in place after the UK's departure from the European Union.
Until the end of 2020, owners of dogs, cats and ferrets could travel with their animals to and from EU countries under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, provided they held a valid EU pet passport. To get a passport, pets had to be taken to a vet before travel, microchipped and vaccinated against rabies.
But if you're travelling to the EU or Northern Ireland in 2021 or beyond, you'll need to take the following steps on your first trip. These steps are similar to the previous process, but you'll need an animal health certificate (AHC) instead of a pet passport:
- You must have your dog, cat or ferret microchipped.
- You must vaccinate your dog, cat or ferret against rabies – your pet must be at least 12 weeks old before it can be vaccinated and you must wait 21 days after the primary vaccination before travel.
- You must visit your vet to get an AHC for your pet no more than 10 days before travel.
- In addition, if travelling to Finland, Malta, Northern Ireland, Norway or Republic of Ireland with a dog, you need to ensure it's received treatment for tapeworm one to five days before arrival in these countries. This needs to be recorded on the pet's AHC.
As long as you keep your pet's rabies vaccinations up to date, you will not need to get repeat vaccinations for subsequent trips to the EU or Northern Ireland (other than for tapeworm treatments for dogs visiting those countries listed above). But you will need to visit your vet to apply for a new AHC for each trip.
More details can be found in our Taking pets to the EU or Northern Ireland MSE News story and on the Gov.uk website.
A greater number of insurers now provide cover for kennel and cattery fees, with the sums insured ranging from £250 up to £2,000. This can help if you're needed for an emergency – or have to go into hospital, say – and there's nobody else available to look after your pet.
Some policies even provide the option to have dog-walking cover, if injury or illness means you can't do this yourself.
Usually your stay in hospital needs to be longer than four consecutive days for this to pay out – though some policies are more lenient.
Cats clawing your furniture to death are a fact of life. Dogs are also partial to an expensive bit of chewing – carpets, shoes, you name it – but finding an insurer to provide this cover is difficult.
For instance, Saga's 'Super cover' pet policy states that "accidental damage caused by your pet to personal property that you and/or your family own" is provided. But it also says "damage caused by biting, chewing, scratching, fouling, urinating or vomiting" is excluded – so most things they'd do aren't covered!
However, you may already be covered for accidental damage on your home contents policy, so give your provider a call to check.
More insurers will pay for your pet to be put down, if a life-threatening accident or serious illness means this is the kindest option. A few will also cover the cost of cremation or burial expenses (up to limits, with the most generous using the current market rate for your pet).
Pet cover is like home, car, travel or life insurance – if a provider goes bust, the Government-backed Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) kicks in.
There are two main ways it protects you:
If you need to claim from a bust insurer
The FSCS's main objective is to 'maintain continuity'. If your insurer goes bust, it will try to find another provider to take over your policy, or issue a substitute policy.
If you have any ongoing claims, or need to make a claim before a new insurer is found, the FSCS will cover these.
If it goes bust and you paid upfront
If you've paid for cover for a year, but the company goes bust after a month or two, you'd lose out.
To protect you, if the FSCS can't transfer your policy to another provider, you'll be given a period of time to take out alternative insurance, and any money you've already paid will be refunded as compensation via the FSCS.
The limits of the compensation depend on whether the policy is compulsory or not.
Compensation for policies such as third-party car insurance, which you're required to have by law, are unlimited, so you get 100% of the premium back.
Non-compulsory policies, such as pet, home, travel, life and PPI, cover 90% of the money paid. So it's possible, in the worst case scenario, that you could lose 10% of the money you paid out (though it's more likely you'll be transferred to a new insurer).
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