Official Injury Claim is coming, but how will consumers find out?

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The Official Injury Claim portal launches in May, but what does the general public know about it? Qamar Anwar, managing director at First4Lawyers, takes a look

So, the first quarter of 2021 is nearly behind us and the launch of the new Official Injury Claim portal is now just over two months away. Much of the sector has spent the last year, at least, knocking on the Ministry of Justice’s door looking for guidance on what the rules were likely to be along with the pre-action protocol and practice direction. Once these were announced at the end of February, the next natural question was, and when will the consumer be informed?

It was hoped that a widespread consumer information campaign was being planned, so that the public might be informed at some stage before the new system comes into effect. However, we now know otherwise. Recently, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau confirmed that there will not be an advertising campaign to let the public know about the new way to pursue whiplash claims through the Official Injury Claim portal.

It said: “Much of the public awareness raising is expected to be done through compensators and the third-sector organisations signposting those who need to use the service to it.”

“To support those on the frontline who need to signpost claimants to the service or answer their questions, we are developing toolkits that will be made available next month (April). These toolkits will include access to training videos, FAQs and branding material.”

So, in other words, the government is shifting its responsibilities.

We decided to conduct a quick straw poll on LinkedIn to see what industry opinion was. We asked, “Should the Ministry of Justice be running an advertising campaign to inform the public about the upcoming changes to RTA claims?” From 73 responses, an overwhelming 93% of respondents said “yes”.

Realistically, it’s not even an industry issue. If you did a straw poll on the street (not during lockdown) and asked 73 passers-by if they would expect information from the government on how to use a new online system, which replaces legal guidance—we’d likely see similar results. It beggars belief that the government believes that removing professional legal advice and guidance from injured claimants and providing them with online videos, FAQs and branding materials is a like-for-like replacement to navigate the complexities of the law.

Quite how a litigant in person is expected to know if their claim is worth more than £5,000 or not remains to be answered. It makes me seethe to think of those who will be especially vulnerable, the elderly, those without access to computers or the internet at home who will now be left adrift, expected by their own government to first of all overcome the technological hurdles, and to then navigate a legal system of which they will have no prior experience or knowledge of.

The decision not to invest in educating the public appears to fly in the face of the increased transparency regime in the legal profession being overseen by the Competition and Markets Authority.

This is yet another bad decision in a series of ill-thought through moves relating to the Official Injury Claim portal implementation.

The whiplash reforms are bad enough for innocent, injured people without them being left clueless about the changes.

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