The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) decision to delay the launch of the new whiplash claims portal until 1 August has been welcomed, with claimant groups and insurers urging the government to make the most of the extra time.
Justice minister Robert Buckland announced yesterday that the Official Injury Claim Service, originally scheduled to launch on 1 April, has been pushed back because “more time is necessary to make sure the whiplash reform programme is fully ready for implementation”.
Outstanding issues include supporting rules and a pre-action protocol, as well as giving the personal injury sector enough time to prepare for the changes. The government also needs to lay the necessary statutory instrument in Parliament to introduce the tariff of damages for whiplash injuries.
David Williams, managing director of underwriting and technical services at AXA, commented: “The delay to the reforms has felt like the worst kept secret for some time. The longer things went on without clarity on the procedural rules, the less likely it was that the April launch would be achieved.”
“At AXA, we support the reforms and have made sure we are as ready as we could be. And had the original date been adhered to, we would have been prepared to offer the help needed to deal with claimants in the new regime.”
“That said, giving time now for publication of the tariffs, and refinement of the civil procedure rules, means that the later launch will be a better launch, it gives everyone more time to prepare and make sure they get things right. Based on that, we fully support the decision to delay.”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, said: “It’s welcome that ministers have delayed the launch of the portal until 1 August, but this news is overdue. While the added time seems inadequate, it’s vital that the MoJ uses any breathing space effectively, especially as we still don’t have the official rules.”
“Claimant and defendant sectors must work collectively to make sure we get this right after a series of false starts. Consumers need to have confidence that the new portal will do what ministers promised and work better for them than the existing system does.”
In the same announcement, Buckland confirmed that the whiplash claims portal will no longer feature an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) component for cases where insurers do not accept liability, and that the small claims track limit will not apply to children or protected parties.
Williams commented: “ADR was always going to be a difficult thing to find a workable solution and we will commit to contribute to discussions on whatever alternatives need to be considered.”
“With regard to the small claims track no longer applying to children or protected parties, again this seems a really sensible approach and one we absolutely endorse.”
Glyn Thompson, associate at Weightmans and head of the motor sector focus team at the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, urged the MoJ to make the most of the time available, after several “extremely disappointing” delays: “Although this announcement might not come as much of a surprise, it’s nevertheless extremely disappointing for motor insurers and the premium-paying public alike.”
“The new portal is a key element of the government’s plan to tackle the volume and cost of whiplash claims and, in turn, bring down the price of premiums for motorists. The scale of the changes means it’s absolutely right that nothing is implemented until the rules and protocol have been properly developed. The measures also need to be delivered in full, rather than piecemeal.”
“But the fact remains that more than three years have passed since the government published its plans to reform the soft tissue claims process and this further delay only extends an already lengthy timeline.”
“The five months before the re-scheduled August launch date not only allows the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to complete their work on the protocol but could and should be used to educate the public on the benefits and existence of the new portal in readiness for day one.”
Commenting on the delay, a spokesperson for the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MiB), which is developing the whiplash claims portal, said: “MIB will continue to stand alongside the MoJ to support their August delivery date. The additional time will allow the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to complete its work and provided we have their decisions by early May, and the changes are not too far away from what we’ve built to date, we are comfortable we will be ready for the new launch date.”