Bank holiday launch for whiplash reforms
Claimant portal helpline will be closed for holiday on day changes come into force
The controversial whiplash reform programme will come into force across England and Wales on Monday (31 May 2021).
The Whiplash Injury Regulations 2021 will change the way a person injured in a road traffic accident (RTA) on or after 31 May can claim compensation.
The small claims limit will be increased from £1,000 to £5,000, meaning no legal costs will be recoverable for injuries below £5,000. As such, it is likely fewer firms will advise on these types of claims.
A whiplash ‘tariff’ will be introduced, which will set out how much a whiplash injury is worth and how much a claimant may receive, which will be dependent on the duration of the injury.
RTA victims will be able to submit claims through an online portal, directly against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
The changes are aimed at tackling ‘whiplash’ culture but have been met by condemnation across the profession.
The Law Society’s head of justice, Richard Miller, has previously expressed concern the compensation tariffs for whiplash have been set far lower than the Judicial College Guidelines currently allow.
He is concerned that "People who have been injured through no fault of their own will now be entitled to less compensation and – in many cases – will not have a solicitor to help them through the claims process.”
Managing director of First4Lawyers, Qamar Anwar, said: “This is a sad day for justice. The lack of compassion and common sense shown by the government with the introduction of this programme beggars’ belief.
“All available data shows that the supposed whiplash culture is a fiction, yet the government has ploughed on regardless.”
The government has also claimed the reforms will allow claimants to settle claims quickly, without the need for legal advice. However, many lawyers have raised concerns about a lack of support for RTA victims.
Miller said: “Without legal advice, many people may be unaware of how they can bring their claim in the first place.”
Anwar agrees: “While the government might sell these reforms as an opportunity for claimants to settle their claims quickly and without the need for court, the reality is quite different.
“The introduction of a do-it-yourself online portal for claims worth up to £5,000 has been accompanied by a snappy 64-page user guide.
“How many claimants do they think will sift through 64 pages to guide them through their claim? Worse still, how will claimants know if their claim is worth more or less than £5,000?”
Anwar also highlighted the fact that the portal will launch on a bank holiday, when it appears the call centre to support injured claimants won’t be open.
He added: “Only this government could launch such a fundamental change to consumer rights, and then have no one on hand to assist claimants with what are going to be at best, teething problems.
“The portal has already had number of technical difficulties for professional users, so it doesn’t bode well for claimants.”
He believes the reforms have been introduced to benefit insurers who lobbied government and have been “rewarded with a system whereby they can both save money and increase profits at the expense of the pain and suffering of innocent injury victims”.
He added: “I doubt very much that any of us will see the £35 savings promised to every motorist by insurers as a result of these changes.”