Gerard Stilliard, Head of Personal Injury Strategy, comments on the proposed plans for a new web portal for insurers.
Thompsons Solicitors has responded to the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) announcement of plans for a new website that would let claimants contact insurers directly for automotive-related claims.
News of a claims portal emerged in February 2018, when the MoJ revealed that it had agreed to let the insurance industry fund a “user-friendly” IT system for claimants in low-value personal injury claims. It would run parallel to an existing portal, which allows access only for a claimant's lawyer.
The government has since proposed pushing up the threshold for claiming road traffic accident costs from the losing side, the small claims track limit, from £1,000 to £5,000 in the Civil Liability Bill.
As it stands, the portal system works for accident victims who want to submit a claim and receive legal representation. Claimant law firms submit all paperwork through an IT system which means insurers enjoy a streamlined process because the hard work has been done for them.
Insurers are understandably delighted with the latest proposals, which means that the injured will not be able to have a lawyer unless they pay for one themselves. However, Thompsons Solicitors is concerned about the Bill, not least because the new portal appears to be unfit for purpose.
"Insurers are having their cake and eating it - they are saying to injury victims: ‘we want you to run your claim alone but we want to keep the efficiency’. But what’s being proposed is not taking the views of future injury victims into account."
“The new Bill means 96 percent of road accident victims won't have a lawyer to help them nor will they have access to an efficient, user-friendly IT system to direct their claims unless the portal is set up with lay people in mind. Insurers will instead get sacks of mail, half of which will be addressed to offices that closed years ago,” says Gerard Stilliard, head of personal injury strategy at Thompsons.
“Insurers are having their cake and eating it - they are saying to injury victims: ‘we want you to run your claim alone but we want to keep the efficiency’. But what’s being proposed is not taking the views of future injury victims into account.”
The claims portal which currently exists has an independent chair and a board that is equally made up of claimant representatives and insurance representatives.
However, the government has not explained who will be the voice for litigants in person when putting together the new portal, even though discussions have already begun.
Gerard continues: “Given the power and influence of insurance lobbyists, claimants need proper representation in the process to ensure a balance, but, almost by definition, individuals are not organised into groups. How will the government make sure that this portal is set up fairly so that consumers aren’t ripped off?
“The government should have at least allowed consumer groups to volunteer their involvement in the talks. Instead, the ministry has hand-picked organisations to take part, including the Association of British Insurers, the Law Society and the Forum of Insurance Lawyers.
“The government needs to show stronger leadership and vision, rather than being led by insurers. They will need to tackle the tricky issues from the outset, e.g. how will claims be handed if an insurer rejects them? Ultimately, this is an unrealistic project and we will be surprised if it doesn’t overrun or come in over budget because of poor planning.”
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