Whiplash portal data: 90 per cent of claimants required lawyers to navigate claims
Industry professionals have suggested the portal may be "too complex for most motorists to use independently"
The first tranche of Official Injury Claim (OIC) service data has revealed over 90 per cent of claimants still required professional help to make a claim using the ‘whiplash portal’.
The data and statistics released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week (21 October) reflect claims made between 31 May – 31st August 2021, the first quarter of data captured by the service.
The portal was launched on 31 May as part of the government’s whiplash reform programme, aimed at enabling claimants to make a claim without the need for legal representation. The reforms also increased the small claims track limit for road traffic accident (RTA) related personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000; introduced a fixed tariff of damages for whiplash claims in the Civil Liability Act 2018 and placed a ban on seeking or offering to settle such claims without medical evidence.
The reforms led to many law firms stepping back from low value RTA work. However, the MoJ’s figures suggest claimants are struggling with the portal and that there may still be a need for professional support in the low value claims market.
David Haynes, underwriting director at ARAG, said: “The successive delays in implementing the Civil Liability Act should have provided enough time to deliver a solution that works for all parties. It is clear from this first data to be released from the [OIC] operation, that the injured motorists who should have been at the centre of this process have been failed.
“The fundamental stated role of the OIC service is to make ‘…the claim process simple, unbiased and secure so you can claim for minor injuries yourself for free without legal help.’ Aside from the security aspect, it appears to have failed so far, in every respect.
“Far from being simple, it is too complex for most motorists to use independently, liability seems much more likely to be denied for represented claimants and many cases are going to end up joining the huge backlogs in the courts”.
The data revealed 45,718 claims were made through the portal in the three-month period from May to August. 41,387 of these were represented claims and 4,331 were unrepresented claims – this equates to 90 per cent of claimants having some form of professional representation.
30,658 (74 per cent) of claims were dealt with by law firms and 10,622 (25 per cent) by alternative business structures. Fewer than 1 per cent were dealt with by claims management companies or another type of adviser.
24,812 liability decisions were made and as at 8 September, 436 cases had settled. 418 (96 per cent) of these were unrepresented claimants and the average time from claim to settlement was 45.2 days.
The Whiplash Injury Regulations 2021 enabled a court to award an uplift in damages of up to 20 per cent where either the injuries suffered, or the claimant’s circumstances, are considered to be exceptional. Of the total claims made in the reporting period, 2,877 claims included a request for an uplift for exceptional injury, 2,332 claims requested an uplift for exceptional circumstances and 6,453 claims requested an uplift in both categories.
The figures showed 1,739 (40 per cent) of unrepresented claimants requested an uplift for exceptional injury, exceptional circumstances or both. During the same period 9,923 (24 per cent) of represented claimants requested an uplift.
Andy Cullwick of First4Lawyers said: “We’re going to take time to analyse and compare this data with Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) data, however on first reading, 40% of unrepresented claimants seeking an uplift strikes us as high. It begs the question whether the unrepresented properly understand the process needed to make a claim at all?
“Unfortunately, there is no breakdown on how many law firms are submitting claims, but we do know there is a 10% drop in the number of RTA’s going through the CRU at the moment compared to last year. When compared to pre-pandemic levels it represents a 45% drop. However, given the number of issues reported when the OIC portal went live and the lack of integration to the Claims Portal, it is far from clear if the OIC is doing the job effectively or just blocking justice to access.
“The purpose of these reforms was to enable unrepresented claimants to handle their own RTA claims as they were thought by the government to be straightforward. It is very clear that very few are using this portal by themselves, which suggests they are not comfortable in handling their claim via an insurer and need representation. This is exactly why we were forced into launching our own alternative business structure First4InjuryClaims to help those who require support through the process.”