The Whiplash Reforms: are they working?
The government’s online portal, ‘Official Injury Claim’ (OIC) went live at the end of May. The portal covers low-value injury claims caused by road traffic accidents on or after 31st May 2021, where compensation for injuries is under £5000.
Anyone can use the OIC without legal advice. However, the system is challenging to navigate with a 64-page user guide and many more pages of legal rules; if it’s concluded that you have suffered a whiplash injury lasting say 6 months, you would be set to receive £495.
In addition, the system is ambiguous; if you have suffered another type of injury alongside whiplash, lasting for 6 months, the new scheme doesn’t provide information about deciding on the number of damages in that situation. The government decided to leave this problem to the courts. Whilst a working party has been set up to look into what cases to take forward, it will take months for test cases to progress through the court system.
Is the portal working?
Whilst the number of RTA claims filed has fallen since the portal’s introduction, there are fears that many unrepresented people have not materialised.
The Ministry of Justice recently published its quarterly figures for the three months since launching the Official Injury Claim at the end of May: 41,387 or 45,718 claims were from individuals with legal representation.
David Parkin, the deputy director for civil justice and law at the MoJ, speaking at the Motor Accident Solicitors Society conference at the end of October, said there used to be thousands of whiplash claims. However, with ongoing covid related issues and fewer motorists, direct comparison is particularly hard.
Even though litigants in person are the portal’s target audience, and individuals can’t make claims under £5000, injured individuals appear content to instruct a lawyer to represent them through the process.
Unrepresented individuals brought just 4,331 claims, whilst claims made through law firms amounted to 30,658 claims and 10,622 through a different business structure.
Before the portal’s introduction, some feared insurers would be more inclined to deny liability if claimants were unrepresented. While the low number of LiPs makes it challenging to answer this, compensators admitted in part of 21,680 claimants during the quarter, of which 2,314 involved unrepresented claimants and 19,366 represented claims; just 4% of the 2,447 cases denied liability in full, involved litigants in person.
Parkin said: ‘Transparency and scrutiny is absolutely vital in this online claims system. Our perception is that the system launch and the first three months have been relatively smooth for a government-associated IT system. It is not without teething problems but it seems to be working relatively well.’
The issue remains surrounding compensation for injuries that don’t fall within the criteria for the new tariff system for whiplash; just 33% of claims were tariff-only, with 61% representing a mixture of multiple injury claims.
David Bott, the owner of north west claimant firm Bott & Co, also spoke at the MASS conference. He said: ‘Up until the Court of Appeal says what damages are there is going to be a range of different behaviours. All the way through the process we cannot say to our clients what the value of the claim actually is – both sides are in this awkward position where nobody knows that value of a claim.’
Speaking at the annual MASS conference, new chair Sue Brown said: ‘It is unclear at this point whether [the low self-representing figures] are because claimants are deciding not to pursue claims, or whether it is because they are unable to pursue their claims without representation, unable to find the OIC or sufficient sources of information or advice, or for some other reason.
‘It is early days but OIC seems to be working reasonably well for professional users, although there are real problems with A2A for both claimant representatives and insurers which need to be resolved. The system will be fit for purpose only when it works for everybody.’
At Stone Rowe Brewer LLP our reputation is based on continually exceeding our customer’s expectations and delivering results in a straightforward, honest and open manner. We are proud to be an accredited practice of the professional body that oversees this area of the law (APIL-Association of Personal Injury Lawyers).