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Small claims personal injury portal needs to be more transparent

Author: Jane Penman

Labour MP, Ellie Reeve and the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) have called on the justice select committee to press the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to make progress on the small claims portal to be made public.

The newly formed ACSO is an organisation looking to bring together and speak for all those involved in supporting claimants in the civil justice system. It succeeds Access to Justice (A2J), the body that campaigned against the Civil Liability Act 2018, which is being wound down.

ACSO executive director, Matthew Maxwell Scott has written to the justice select committee’s chair, MP Bob Neill claiming that the portal “has been shrouded in secrecy, meaning thousands of businesses serving millions of people each year cannot plan for the future”.

The portal, which will enable people to pursue low value personal injury claims themselves, is to be put out for beta testing in the autumn. It forms the centre of the government’s whiplash reforms and will be launched in April 2020.The introduction of the portal will result in substantial reductions in the levels of compensation paid to those injured in road traffic accidents.

It was due to go live in April this year, but was delayed by 12 months to ensure thorough testing was carried out so that it operated properly. Some of the questions that still remain are how will people without internet access be dealt with, how do people get human help if needed and what happens if an insurer denies liability?

In his letter, Mr. Maxwell Scott explained that “…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.”

He also cited the issues 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 urged the committee to hold a short inquiry to help all stakeholders understand how the portal was progressing, pointing out that the government’s reforms were opposed by the justice select committee after an investigation in 2018.

Mr. Maxwell Scott went on to request that the select committee step in again to ensure that the insurance industry and the MoJ build a system that works for honest claimants. He stated that when the Civil Liability Bill was passing through Parliament there were repeated assurances from ministers that the portal would be quick, easy and more efficient than the current system, but lamented that any meaningful information on the portal roll-out and its long-term use was yet to be seen.

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