Last week the government finally published their guide to the Official Injury Claim service – the online portal that will handle personal injury compensation claims of up to £5,000 for victims of road traffic accidents. Arriving just four weeks before the reforms come into effect and the portal is launched, the guide was already under criticism for coming too late to properly prepare the public for the upcoming changes. And that criticism was not dissuaded by the arrival of the legally dense 64 page, 20,000 word tome.

The guide has in some quarters been described as “about as easily digestible as a pound of lead”, with claims that it “is likely to diminish further the likelihood of people making claims as litigants in person, as was the government’s intention.”

It’s also been referred to as “legal treacle” that “will confuse all but the most legally savvy claimants.”

The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) make the very valid and important point  that “The claims industry will need to prepare itself for thousands of confused customers from June onwards, and it is a pity that the government has yet to spend a single penny on making the public aware of this significant change to their legal rights.”

The problem for claimants

The introduction of the reforms to begin with was to create a simple solution for low value claims that removes the need for claimants to seek legal support and go through the court system. Instead of hiring lawyers and debating the perceived value of their injuries, claimants would simply log on to the portal where they would be given a settlement figure based on set tariffs.

It may sound like a straightforward solution, but the reality is far from simple. Now if someone is involved in a car accident and suffers a minor, but still unpleasant, injury like whiplash, they have a 64 page pdf to peruse so they can determine whether their claim is worth more or less than £5,000. If it’s less then they can follow the instructions and log in to the government’s portal to make their claim – with no legal support to help them make the best claim and limited options to appeal a decision.

Is this better than hiring a personal injury specialist to go over your claim and help you get the full result you deserve?

Other key questions have been raised that are somehow not covered in the encyclopedic publication released by the MoJ, such as:

  • Doesn’t the use of an online system create a digital exclusion risk for those who are not computer literate or online?
  • Should the general public be expected to have at least a baseline knowledge of the legal system to know what can and can’t be claimed?
  • Should there be more legal support or advice available to help people make a full or accurate claim?
  • What is the procedure for alternative dispute resolution?

And of course the big question: what is the government doing to make the public aware of the new portal? Because so far there has been limited publicity and it’s unlikely that the average claimant will go straight to the portal at the end of the month and not first try to contact a personal injury professional who will no longer be able to help them.

It should be clear that these concerns are not new. These questions have been asked by people in the industry ever since the reforms were proposed. But the arguments have been brushed aside and we are now just a few short weeks from the introduction of a system that may do more harm than good to those who have suffered road traffic injury.

The government’s response

Following complaints about the rules, the MoJ has commented to clarify that a full reading of the guide will not be required for every claimant and that, in fact, there will be further, more compact guidance to using the online system which itself has been built to be user friendly.

They went as far as to refer to the guide as not just a tool for claimants but “a useful reference for claims professionals and advice providers,” suggesting that it is not just the layman who may be struggling with the imminent new service.

Whether those using the portal will be invested enough to spend a good hour sinking their teeth into the MoJ’s opus, or whether the comprehensive guide was simply created as a place to point critics towards – a way of saying “look, all the answers you want are somewhere in here” – it still seems less of a practical publication and more of an illustration of the unwanted complexity of the reforms themselves.

The tariff problem

Usability of the system, lack of legal support for injury victims and the incomprehensibility of the advisory guide are not the only concerns with the reforms. A big feature of the new rules is that compensation is set by tariff – theoretically giving a clear value to the different types of injury so the claimant understands the amount they can receive.

But personal injury professionals have criticised the tariffs, calling them “an insult to the injured and vulnerable”.

According to Sam Elsby, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL): “the tariffs for whiplash injuries are derisory and offensive and will almost certainly leave people under-compensated.

“The lowest tariff provides just £240 for pain and suffering that will affect an injured person for up to three months – this is not anywhere near the appropriate level of compensation. Injured people are going to be taken aback when they have a crash and find out that their injury and the months of pain, discomfort and stress are worth less than the cost of a new sofa.”

Despite the criticism, the MoJ remained committed to the tariff system and they have now been approved ready for the 31st May.

What happens next?

The whiplash reforms will come into force on the 31st May so any road traffic accidents occurring after that date will have to factor that in. Any claims of under £5,000 will have to go through the Official Injury Claim portal where they will be assessed according to the set tariffs.

This will dramatically change the personal injury sector but, more importantly, it will change the way that claimants are able to receive compensation. To ensure that you are able to get the full amount that you’re entitled to it may be necessary to familiarise yourself as much as possible with the claims process and the rules surrounding it.

Remember that the portal is only for claims below £5,000. If you’ve been injured in a road accident that wasn’t your fault and you believe the extent of your injuries are worth more than £5,000 in compensation you should consult a personal injury specialist who can help you get the full amount that you deserve.

Accident Claims Lawyers work with people who have been injured in all sorts of accidents – on the road, in the workplace, in public areas – and are available on a no win, no fee basis to advise and represent you in making a claim. Our expert team are available to help you recover medical or care expenses, loss of earnings, damage expenses and more. Contact Accident Claims Lawyers today to find out how we can help you.