When it comes to the reform of personal injury claims and the introduction of the Official Injury Claim portal – which is meant to encourage people to pursue smaller personal injury claims without the encumbrance of lawyers – the insurance industry must sometimes feel like Jim Trott, the famously indecisive character from The Vicar of Dibley: “Yes, Yes, Yes … No”.
Clearly, making it easier for people to claim when they have been injured in an car accident is a laudable objective. Even more so when it offers the additional prospect of reducing legal costs, ultimately borne by insurers when a claim is successful. But, and there is a big but, albeit one not voiced openly by insurers: Dealing with litigants in person when claims find their way to court can be a nightmare. Hence, the slightly nervous hesitancy in offering the scheme, which was introduced last May, a ringing endorsement.
It means insurers, although broadly in favour of the portal and critical of the many delays in the run-up to its launch, have been rather muted in their criticism of its limited success.
When the portal was launched last year, the Ministry of Justice forecast that it expected up to 30% of claimants would feel sufficiently confident using the portal to lodge claims that they would do so without the help of a solicitor. So far, 9.3% of 114,000 claims going through the portal have been lodged by claimants themselves.
The culprit in the eyes of claimant lawyers and insurers alike is the official guidance for unrepresented claimants which comes in at 64 pages. This explains the key legal terms and the legal framework behind the portal – the road traffic accident small claims action protocol – and the procedure for lodging and pursuing a claim.
This guidance has been criticised for being too complex and deterring people from using the portal themselves. It is not hard to imagine anyone in the aftermath of an accident picking up a 64 page legal document just to get a claim started and deciding they need the help of a qualified solicitor.
Now, the Ministry of Justice has whittled this down to a 14-page guide entitled Five steps to using the online Official Injury Claim Service.
Will this unlock the potential of the claims portal for quicker settlements, less costly in terms of legal fees, that its advocates hope? And, if it does, are insurers in a position to respond?
Motor claims were severely depressed during the Covid lockdowns as traffic levels dropped significantly, taking the pressure off claims departments. As they return to normal levels accidents are increasing but claims departments have not necessarily returned to pre-pandemic working practices and staffing levels.
Like almost all businesses, insurers are feeling their way towards a new normal with a more flexible mixture of office and home working. There is no clear consensus on what that blend should look like for the typical claims department or what impact it might have on service levels. If the Ministry of Justice’s new guide succeeds where its earlier weighty tome failed, then managing a growing number of litigants in person will be another challenge for insurers to face.
If the proportion using the portal to present their claims rises to the 30% anticipated by the MoJ insurers will need to ensure they have sympathetic procedures in place if they are to avoid hostile headlines about how they are making life difficult for self-represented claimants. Are they ready?