Coronavirus pandemic forces whiplash reforms delay

The UK government has delayed implementation of the whiplash reform programme until April 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its impact on medical, insurance and legal services.

Justice minister Robert Buckland confirmed in a statement that the small claims track limit increase, fixed tariff and ban on settlements without medical reports will not apply until next year.

As a result, the Official Injury Claim Service, the new online whiplash claims portal, will also be delayed.

Buckland said: “It is apparent that the current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors. While the whiplash reform measures remain important, the government is committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where it can.”

“As a result, the government has considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.”

“We have therefore decided to delay the implementation of the whiplash reform programme to April 2021. This will enable key sectors of this country’s business to focus their energies on delivering their response to Covid-19, and will allow the government to focus on delivering key services in the justice area during this difficult time.”

This is the third time the whiplash reform programme or aspects of it have been delayed. Most recently, the whiplash claims portal, originally scheduled to launch on 1 April, was pushed back to August.

Commenting on the delay, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Gordon Dalyell said: “Delay is welcome, but another arbitrary date for these reforms to be implemented is meaningless unless critical issues are addressed.”

“The new claims portal lacks vital safeguards to ensure injured people are able to gain access to justice. Without alternative dispute resolution the portal will leave unrepresented injured people in a very vulnerable position if liability or the value of the claim is disputed. Injured people will be expected instead to switch to the small claims track, which is simply not designed for these types of disputes. But before this could even be considered a viable solution, issues like the need for explicit permission from the court to allow expert evidence must be resolved.”

“This is now the third time the deadline has been moved and we are still to see any real progress on these issues. The priority must now be on finding workable solutions which will leave injured people with some hope of justice.”

James Dalton, director of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers, welcomed the postponement, but cautioned against unnecessary further delay. He said : “Given this unprecedented situation, we understand that a delay to implementing these much-needed reforms is necessary.”

“However, any delay beyond what is absolutely needed will impact on the benefits to claimants and consumers.”

“As an industry we remain committed to continuing to support the Ministry of Justice so that the reforms can be introduced as soon as it is practical to do so.”