Whiplash reforms and portal coming in May

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The long-awaited whiplash reforms and portal will come into force in May after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) delayed their implementation for a fourth time.

Justice minister Robert Buckland says the delay until May comes in response to requests from affected parties that need to “prepare their businesses for the changes to how small road traffic personal injury claims are managed”.

The whiplash reforms and portal—or Part 1 of the Civil Liability Act 2018 and the associated increase to the small claims track limit for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims—were originally supposed to be implemented last year, but the MoJ delayed their introduction several times, most notably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Buckland says the MoJ continues to work with the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to finalise the supporting rules and pre-action protocol, while the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), which is delivering the whiplash portal, “continues to make excellent progress”.

Following the delay announcement, Dominic Clayden, chief executive officer of MIB, offered this update: “[We] can confirm that the build of Official Injury Claim service remains on track.”

“This is based on the current assumed scope agreed with the MoJ. ​MIB will complete the last stages of the build in conjunction with MoJ when the Civil Procedure Rule Committee has agreed the new rules and new pre-action protocol for the new service.”

“MIB continues to work closely with MoJ on the run-up to its public launch campaign to help businesses prepare for the launch of the service. We will provide a further update as soon as we can.”

A ‘sensible decision’

Personal injury businesses and trade groups were unsurprised by the delay, but urged the government to use the extra time to outline how the whiplash reforms and portal will work in practice.

Sam Elsby, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, comments: “Work on the new system has been dangerously compressed to meet this artificial deadline, so we welcome any delay which is used to address our concerns about outstanding issues of critical importance to injured people.”

Elsby continues: “We need to know exactly how the proposed new ‘bespoke’ court process will replace ADR; we need to know the outcome of consultation with the lord chief justice about the new whiplash tariffs, and there needs to be clarification about how mixed claims will be handled in the new system. Furthermore, the public must be properly informed well in advance about the new system that claimants will have to use when they are injured.”

Graham Pulford, chief executive of handl Group, which owns several personal injury-focused brands and businesses, calls the delay a “sensible decision”.

He says: “We welcome this sensible decision to delay the portal in order to confirm the rules by which it will operate and ensure that consumers are properly informed about the forthcoming changes in access to civil justice, including the need for legal expenses insurance (LEI) cover.”

“In the post reform world, consumers must have adequate LEI when they come to make an injury claim, as well as access to rehabilitation services to treat their injuries.”

“The judiciary has made clear that LEI is appropriate protection for consumers, so this delay will give LEI providers like us the opportunity to work with MoJ and the FCA to build consumer awareness of this cover and make sure LEI is readily available to consumers.”

Pulford adds: “The industry has shown itself capable of cooperation when the chips are down during the Covid pandemic. We have brought forward a number of cross-industry solutions, such as alternative dispute resolution, that remove frictional costs and avoid overworking the courts.” 

“The lack of an ADR mechanism is one of the major challenges holding back the implementation of the new portal, so we are happy to offer our support to MoJ and help fix this outstanding issue.”

Insurers also welcomed the delay. Mark Shepherd, assistant director and head of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers, says: “[The] clarification from the government confirming that these much needed reforms are proceeding and will soon be implemented is welcome. We will continue to work with the government to support their implementation by May.”

Shepherd adds: “We urge the government and rules committee to complete and publish the new rules as soon as possible so that insurers can prepare to engage with the new portal and provide a good service to customers. We have always made clear that insurers will require a minimum of three months from publication of the final rules to be ready and we remain firmly committed to this.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk