The charity dedicated to supporting litigants in person has expressed serious concerns about the new Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal and called for more funding for legal support organisations.
Lizzie Iron, head of service at Support Through Court, said it was worried too that many people were likely to take the first offer made by the defendant insurer.
There was “no easy answer on the horizon” as to how ordinary people would get the help they needed to navigate the “potentially complex path” of bringing a claim, she said.
Writing for the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, Ms Iron said the first significant problem for litigants in person trying to make a claim using the OIC was assessing its value.
“For someone with no knowledge of this field, the sources of information are varied and unfamiliar,” she warned.
“Material will no doubt become more readily available as usage demonstrates the need, and, with others, I’ve contributed to the MIB’s comprehensive user guide, while third sector colleagues at Law for Life and Citizens Advice are preparing information for their public-facing information sites.
“In the meantime, references to the Judicial College Guidelines for the details of tariff compensation are somewhat obscure, and getting your head round the differences between tariff-based and non-tariff injuries, and protocol and non-protocol costs is a challenging exercise for even the most level-headed litigant in person.
“What may be fundamental to an experienced professional is a minefield for the uninformed claimant trying to DIY such a claim.”
Ms Iron said it would “entirely sensible” for people to take the first offer made by the defendant insurer.
“With nothing to compare it to, it may seem a generous amount of money; it gets the business over with quickly and the person can move on with their life…
“However, that initial offer may turn out to fall well short of the funds needed for the future, and without the support of an experienced adviser, how is the injured person to know?”
Terms such as ‘liability’ and ‘quantum’ may prove difficult for litigants to understand, Ms Iron said, adding: “Where does a litigant in person go to work out a reasonable schedule of what to negotiate for?
“What about exceptional circumstances? With no sense of what’s normal in this context, how is a litigant in person able to say whether their circumstances are exceptional?”
Ms Iron said Support Through Court’s volunteers would initially be clearly directed to refer enquiries to the MIB support centre, although it does not give legal advice.
“It is vital that they understand the nature and volume of the impact of the reforms on people trying to help themselves in this area,” she said.
The Ministry of Justice said last year that it anticipated the portal handling around 150,000 cases in the first year before reaching a “steady state” of 400,000 by years three to four.
Ms Iron said this first-year figure was now considered “a cautious view”; pre-Covid, Support Through Court recorded around 75,000 client contacts.
“At best, if 150,000 litigants in person come to us just once each, this would treble our workload. Of course, people will go to other sources of help such as Citizens Advice, law centres and other advice agencies.
“Unless these agencies are given extra funding for specialist help, however, there will still be a community of litigants in person looking for guidance at those critical points on their whiplash journey.”