Justice officials have conceded there is nothing to stop insurers gaming the new portal system for litigants in person when it goes live next April. Ministry of Justice policy chiefs appeared yesterday at a seminar held to give more detail about how the portal will work. Around 100 stakeholders were in London for a session put together by the Motor Insurers Bureau, which is designing and implementing the portal.
But when solicitors pressed them on how insurers could be stopped from simply denying liability on claims and forcing unrepresented claimants to pay costs up-front, officials paused and appeared to be struggling to find answers. They eventually assured delegates they could take action, but the nature of this action was not specified and it was unclear what safeguards would be in place from day one.
Richard Hutchinson, representing the MoJ, admitted that if insurers denied liability, litigants in person would have to take their case through court – paying the fees associated with this – and fund their own mandatory medical report before the claim went back to the portal.
If the claim was successful, these costs would be recoverable, but there was widespread concern that some legitimate claimants will be put off pursuing their case when faced with such obstacles.
Responding to these concerns, David Parkin, MoJ deputy director for civil justice and law, said: ‘We have a low-cost system for [insurers] to operate. How they respond to claims is something we will use the system to monitor. If there is any adverse or strange behaviour it is something we can take action on.’
Brian Coghlan, from north west firm HCC Solicitors, said there remains concern that, where insurers undervalue claims, few litigants are going to have the resolve or knowledge to contest it. ‘The alternative route for unrepresented claimants is so desperately unattractive they will be under significant pressure to shrug their shoulders and take it,’ said Coghlan.
Delegates also expressed concern that represented claimants will not have access to a free ADR service being provided for litigants in person, creating a two-tier system for claims.
The MIB continues to work towards implementing the portal for all RTA claims where the accident occurs after 6 April, except where they involve a child or protected party. A contact centre is being created alongside the portal, with testing set to run from mid-November until the end of February.