The Bill has been presented by Ministers as being about stopping an ‘epidemic’ of fraudulent whiplash claims in road accidents but it’s really about taking away legal rights from injured people and shovelling yet more money the way of insurers who are already posting record profits.
Then there is the real kicker for people whose claims have nothing whatsoever to do with whiplash – they are wanting to sneak through huge increases to the small claims limits, which will see people injured through no fault of their own having to pay for legal help from their compensation rather than, as now, those fees being paid on top of the compensation by the losing side. The Tories plan to make this change by statutory instrument, a parliamentary device that means things can be pushed through without any real scrutiny.
Not only is the government’s approach to changing the small claims limit undemocratic, it has nothing to do with’ fraud’, which is supposedly the target of the reforms. The small claims limit for road traffic accidents is going to increase by 400%, to £5,000, and it’s going to be doubled to £2,000 for all other injuries including accidents at work. There is no justification for those increases based on inflation and it flies int he face of both what the government has been advised to do by legal experts and contrasts with Scotland where everyone injured gets free legal help.
Even the insurers admit that less than 1% of cases involve fraud yet – despite the clear evidence presented to it by Labour MPs and Peers in parliament – the government has ignored that and chosen to increase the limit for everyone – an attack on all injured people.
Up to 40% of those injured at work will lose their right to have a lawyer represent them. Thousands of injured workers will be left fighting insurers on their own and in their own time.
The government’s proposed changes give irresponsible employers a green light to cut corners on health and safety in the knowledge that injured workers will be will either not seek compensation or struggle to do so on their own.
What can you do?
The bill has now all but been passed. The statutory instrument to increase the level of the small claims limit, however, will not be put forward until the second half of 2019. There is still time to prevent it from going ahead. The case for doing so is strong.
The government has already exempted ‘Vulnerable Road Users’, cyclists, horse riders, pedestrians and motorcyclists from the Bill and from any increase in the small claims limit. As a union, we say that they should also exempt children, people with mental disabilities and those injured at work who are all, in their own way, ‘vulnerable claimants’, from the small claims limit changes.
We welcome the government exempting the Deliveroo cyclist, mounted police officer or paramedic on a motorbike who are injured in the course of their employment from these changes, but why should they continue to have the help of a lawyer but not the rail worker injured at work?
The government will lose £146 million a year because of these changes whilst workers are priced out of justice. The only people to gain will be insurers who will be £1.3 billion a year better off.
Article originally published in RMT News, January 2019