Thompsons Solicitors has submitted evidence to a Justice Committee parliamentary inquiry into whiplash reform and the Official Injury Claim (OIC) service.
What are the whiplash reforms and Official Injury Claim service?
The whiplash reforms were introduced under the Civil Liability Act 2018. With the aim of reducing the number and cost of whiplash claims in England and Wales, the reforms took away free legal help and slashed the compensation payable.
The whiplash reforms were presented by the government as being necessary to cut fraudulent claims, but there was no independent evidence that fraud was an issue. It was claimed the measures would allow insurers to cut car insurance premiums, and the insurers pledged to pass on savings variously put at between £35 and £50 per motorist.
Launched in May 2021, the Official Injury Claim (OIC) online portal was billed as a free and independent service that would allow individuals with a ‘low value road traffic accident’ to simply claim compensation without the need for legal help.
What is the purpose of the inquiry?
The inquiry is examining the effect of the reforms on the number of lower value road traffic related personal injury claims.
It is also looking at how the OIC is operating, whether it is easy to use, and whether it ensures access to justice for everyone who may seek to make a claim.
What was Thompsons’ response?
Thompsons Solicitors notes that the number of whiplash claims have fallen dramatically, but argues that the OIC fails to ensure access to justice.
The number of motor claims in October to December 2022 is less than half of the number for the same period in 2019, however there is no evidence that the dramatic reduction relates to illegitimate claims no longer being made. Thompsons is concerned that in fact many potential claimants are being put off making a claim due to the complicated nature of the OIC and, given the dramatic reduction in damages awarded, the now disproportionate cost of engaging a lawyer.
In most successful personal injury claims, the insurers to the guilty party will contribute to the claimant’s legal costs. However, due to the fivefold increase in the Small Claims Limit introduced in 2019 for road traffic accidents, no legal costs are payable in any claim made through the OIC up to a value of £5,000 – which covers over 80% of all road traffic accident claims.
The OIC service was meant to allow people to claim quickly, easily and without legal help. However, yet the OIC’s own statistics show that over 90% of those pursuing claims through the portal have legal representation, meaning they have to cover their own legal fees out of very limited damages.
There are many reasons why people are struggling to submit a claim without legal help. The OIC process follows a lengthy set of rules - the guidance alone is a daunting 64 pages long. The claimant also has to know at the outset if their claim for injury is worth over £5,000 or not - ascertaining that is a challenge for many unrepresented claimants.
A significant number of claimants who have submitted their own claims on the OIC portal have subsequently approached Thompsons to take their cases over - often because they do not agree with the contents of medical evidence, do not agree with or understand the offer that has been made to them, or have not recovered from their injuries in line with the prognosis in the medical report.
Promises that the reforms would lead to reduced car insurance premiums have also failed to materialise. Insurance companies are making significant savings as a result of the reforms slashing the number and costs of claims, yet the average motor premium in October to December 2022 was £470, compared to £434 in 2021. The reforms have saved the insurers £millions at the expense of claimants, with no benefit to policy holders.
Natalie Harvey, personal injury solicitor and Thompsons partner, commented:
“The whiplash reforms and the Official Injury Claim service have hugely benefitted the insurers and their shareholders, but have significantly disadvantaged claimants. As we predicted before the reforms were forced through, motorists have not seen any savings.
The vast majority of people do not feel able to make a claim without legal representation, and have to cover their own legal costs from much reduced compensation. The government is also missing out on £millions every year that would under the old regime have been paid by the insurers to the guilty party into the NHS and the benefits system.
We hope the inquiry can see from the evidence we have submitted that the Official Injury Claim service is not operating as it was claimed it would, it is failing to provide the promised savings for consumers and is denying access to justice. The only people to benefit are insurers and their shareholders.”
Injured on the roads? Help and compensation is close at hand.
If you’ve been injured on the roads in the last three years, Thompsons Solicitors' expert road traffic accident solicitors can support you with making a road traffic compensation claim.
Whether you were the driver or passenger in a car, lorry, coach, van, bus, truck, on public transport or were injured as a pedestrian or cyclist, you may be able to claim for damages.
If you have suffered injuries such as whiplash, bruising or a more serious injury following a road traffic collision on the motorway, country lane or city roads, our solicitors across the UK are ready to help you to make a claim and access any rehabilitation you require.
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Contact us today for a free, no obligation assessment of whether you have a claim for compensation following a road accident.
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