Qamar Anwar, managing director at First4Lawyers, comments on the reaction to the new online claims portal that launched on 31 May
We finally saw the launch of the new online claims portal at the end of May. It will for us, and I think for many in the sector, be remembered as a sad day for justice. Many of us lobbied long and hard against these reforms, highlighting time and again that all available data shows that the supposed whiplash culture is a fiction, yet the government ploughed on regardless. The reforms seemingly only benefit the insurers, which have, it appears, used their vast profits to lobby hard and have been rewarded with a system whereby they arguably can both save money and increase profits at the expense of the pain and suffering of innocent injury victims.
However, we knew it was time to now move forward and ensure that we provide as much support as possible to those who need it while we all navigate this new landscape. Then the national news reporting of the new portal started to appear.
From the Press Association to the BBC, news stories ran trumpeting the cost savings that motorists were now going to be making on the back of the portal launch. Claimants would now be ‘spared’ legal costs as they process their own claims online.
The Ministry of Justice was quoted as bringing out the tired rhetoric about the “unacceptably high” number of whiplash claims, that would be despite fewer crashes reported year-on-year since 2013—but let’s not let facts get in the way of some outdated statistics. The Association of British Insurers said it was “a big win for consumers”, while insurer Aviva claimed: “These reforms are critical in creating a fairer system that balances care and compensation for genuine injuries… motorists can more easily manage their claims without legal help, including obtaining medical reports and receiving compensation payments.”
That was followed by the statement from Dominic Clayden, chief executive of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), which is operating the new online claims portal, saying: “We are pleased to have delivered on our remit to build a service that meets the requirements of these important policy changes. MIB’s focus has always been about making sure the new legal process is as easy and straightforward as possible for anyone who might need to make a claim.” No mention then of the portal’s collapse during testing just days before launch.
Not one mention among all of these ‘big wins for consumers’ and ‘ease of use for consumers’ that in order to navigate this new online system users will be solely aided by a 64-page guide. No mention that the average consumer has next to no experience in evaluating the value of their injury. No reference to those who may have difficulty accessing or using an online system, and no consideration to any intimidation a user may feel, solely navigating their way through a legal system that has been used thousands of times by the companies they are trying to claim from.
I watched and read the news in disbelief as not one story or news piece featured a representative from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society or the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. With the notable exception of The Times, had not one other journalist, as they penned their piece, sought to find a balanced view, a counterpoint to this important and contentious issue?
Have vulnerable and injured consumers been so quickly forgotten, or was the lure of bank holiday sunshine responsible for such lazy reporting? While the eve of the portal launch felt like a sad day for justice, it seems sadder days have followed as the media have swallowed hook, line and sinker the insurers’ lines. Yet no reference was made to those of us who are working so hard now, behind the scenes, to hold the hands and support those who need us the most—and they need us now more than ever.