© Wan Mohd - Flickr (Creative Commons)
The Government’s latest assault: Access to legal representation for injured people
The Government wants to increase the small claims limit in road traffic cases from £1,000 to £5,000. This will mean that someone injured in road traffic accident with a claim at less than £5,000 would not be able to recover the cost of having a solicitor advise them. Consumers injured through no fault of their own will be left having to take on insurance companies on their own, in their own time, or using up money that is meant to be for lost wages or broken limbs on lawyers.
The very same ministers who are making workers pay to bring a case to the Employment Tribunal and who are seeking to neuter trade unions through the Trade Union Bill, now want to impose a cost on the injured for legal representation.
While some people may have the time, knowledge and confidence to fight an insurance company (who will still have an army of lawyers and wily negotiators working for them), for many – arguably the vast majority – the idea of representing themselves whilst recovering from injuries without the support of a solicitor would be an unwelcome prospect. And who, without expert advice, will know what their injury is really worth, who to go to make sure they know what the long term medical impact is going to be, or be able to prove what they have really lost in wages?
Injured people will increasingly accept settlements the insurers deem ‘appropriate’ and, if the 70% drop in Employment Tribunal claims since fees were introduced is anything to go by, there will also be huge numbers who just won’t go ahead with a claim at all.
The government have bought in the insurance industry line that there is a ‘fraud and claims culture in the motor industry’ but there has never been any independent verification of the insurers’ figures. By the ABI’s own admission, ‘fraud’ includes cases which ‘might have had an innocent explanation’ or where claims handlers have a ‘suspicion’ of fraud and those where an applicant accepts a ‘substantially reduced offer’, withdraws their claim without ‘credible explanation’ or allows communication with the insurer to lapse.
When pressed by a cross-party group of MPs, the ABI admitted that there had only been 84 convictions in the period January 2012 to September 2014 by a police unit set up specifically to tackle the problem. If fraud is such a widespread problem, why are conviction rates so low? If there is a crisis it appears to be one of their own making.
Without any independently verifiable evidence to back up the idea that fraud is now an ‘epidemic’ (as one insurance CEO claimed), the figures being peddled are self-serving rhetoric with the government simply repeating the insurance line they are going to hit the jackpot, isolate the injured from independent advice, reduce the money they have to pay out and increase their profits and dividends.
Motor insurance is compulsory and the £15 billion a year market is looking pretty healthy by anyone’s standards. Direct Line and Admiral paid out £1.65 billion in dividends to their shareholders in the last three years (that’s equivalent to £221 per policyholder). The CEO of Direct Line had an 82% increase in his rewards package last year which probably reflects the fact that his company’s shares rose 32% between when the Conservatives were elected in May 2015 to December 2015 (out-performing the rest of the UK stock market by 7% over the same period).
The chancellor claims that the proposed rise in the small claims limit will save the insurance industry £1 billion, however it is unclear how this has been calculated and ministers have said in Parliament that they have no intention of making them pass any savings onto the motorist. Given they have saved nearly £7 billion in the last four years but at the same time motorists have paid £353 million more in premiums the chances they’ll be anything beyond small change passed on looks highly unlikely.
Thompsons is working with trade unions and opposition parties to fight these changes before they are sneaked through as law. Join the car insurance campaign at our campaign website or our group on Facebook.