Government policy to blame for OIC shortcomings, say claimant lawyers

Brown: System was badly conceived

The problems with the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal identified by the justice select committee are “not just operational, but policy driven”, claimant lawyers have argued.

MPs published an interim report yesterday highlighting issues such as delays in settlements, the tiny proportion of genuine litigants in person, technical challenges and low public awareness.

The committee will return to the issue once the Supreme Court has ruled in the Rabot case on valuing ‘mixed’ claims that feature both a tariff and non-tariff injury.

Sue Brown, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, congratulated it on raising “some urgent questions” and said claimant lawyers looked forward to the Ministry of Justice and Motor Insurers’ Bureau explaining how they would resolve them.

“The reality is that these issues are not just operational, but policy driven. They are the inevitable result of a badly conceived new claims system,” she continued.

“It has failed to meet many of its policy objectives and in so doing has reduced the likelihood of accident victims receiving the justice that they deserve.”

Ms Brown urged the committee to conduct “a fuller inquiry into the government’s policies towards road traffic accident personal injury claims. Parliament passed the fundamentally flawed Civil Liability Act and should play an active role in its review”.

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, said that “overall it has been an inauspicious start to life for the OIC, and while great efforts have been made to make it fit for purpose, the backlogs the committee draws attention to are of considerable concern”.

Some of the problems reflected broader issues within civil justice, he said, “with court delays at historic highs and civil administration struggling to get on top of the situation”.

“It also shows that the introduction of new portals and other radical changes needs to be considered more carefully in future, with greater cross-industry involvement than was the case with the OIC.”

Law Society president Lubna Shuja argued that, in light of the report and while waiting for the Supreme Court decision, “now would be an opportune time for the Ministry of Justice to examine how the portal has been operating”.

Andrew Wild, head of legal at law firm First4InjuryClaims, said: “The current delays faced by claimants is totally unacceptable and the fact that concerns are finally being listened to can only be a positive step.

“There are several reasons why delays are so long, one being that there is no penalty for bad behaviour, such as denying liability in the face of clear evidence to the contrary or failing to respond in a reasonable timeframe during negotiations.

“Prior to the reforms, cost sanctions could be imposed and should be re-introduced.

“Another perceived reason is represented claimants holding onto medical reports; however, as shown by the Supreme Court involvement, these claims are not straightforward and they often involve complex injuries or losses.”

Henrietta Phillips, head of legal services at Thompsons, said the mixed claims uncertainty “underscores the broader issue of the Ministry of Justice’s tendency to hasten reforms without comprehensive planning or foresight”.

The low useage by litigants in person “raises serious concerns about the accessibility and user-friendliness of the OIC process”, she added. “The existence of a 64-page guidance document for claimants is a testament to the system’s complexity, making it nearly impossible for unrepresented individuals to navigate.”

With the purported savings in insurance premiums remaining “opaque”, Ms Phillips went on: “As the committee makes clear in their report, it is vital that the direct effect of the whiplash reforms is properly assessed and the public needs to see transparent and tangible benefits from these reforms.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it would respond to the select committee “in due course”.

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