MPs on the justice select committee have been urged to press the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for information about the development of the small claims portal to be made public.
The call came from the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), the newly formed trade association for the claims sector, with support from Labour MP Ellie Reeves.
In a letter to committee chair Bob Neill MP, ACSO executive director Matthew Maxwell Scott claimed that the portal – which is due to be put out for beta testing in the autumn ahead of its launch next April – “has been shrouded in secrecy, meaning thousands of businesses serving millions of people each year cannot plan for the future”.
The portal is at the heart of the government’s whiplash reforms and will enable people with low-value injury claims to pursue their cases themselves.
Mr Maxwell Scott said: “The then MoJ minister Rory Stewart said in Parliament that the portal launch, which was originally due to be implemented last month, would be postponed by 12 months ‘so we have more time to make sure the testing is done and the portal operates properly’.
“Our members tell us they need at least 12 months to get ready for the new system, but they still have no clue as to what it will look like and how it will work.
“The government has done a Brexit with personal injury claims: set a launch date without a plan that explains how to get there.”
Questions that needed answering included how people without internet access would be looked after, what would happen with claims where insurers deny liability, and how people could get help from a human if needed.
Mr Maxwell Scott also cited the problems already being faced by legal expenses insurers (LEI).
“LEI policies being written now cover a 12-month period from now into next year when the insurers have no idea what the new regime looks like.
“LEI providers should be part of the development process, especially as the MoJ has said that this product could give claimants access to legal advice in the post-reform world.”
He said the justice committee to hold a short inquiry to help all stakeholders understand how the portal was progressing.
Mr Maxwell Scott said: “The committee came down firmly against the personal injury reforms after it investigated the government’s plans in 2018.
“We need them to step in again to make sure the insurance industry [which is paying for the portal] and the MoJ are building a system which works for honest claimants.”
Ms Reeves said: “It is disappointing that the Ministry of Justice are reluctant to provide information about the forthcoming claims portal.
“When the Civil Liability Bill was passing through Parliament, we were given repeat assurances from ministers that using the portal to make a claim would be quick, easy and more efficient than the current system.
“It is unfortunate that we are yet to see any meaningful information on the portal roll-out and its long-term use.
“I hope the ministry will use this opportunity to engage with stakeholders and provide us all with a comprehensive update on the portal’s development.”