Last Night's Television: Scams, Claims and Compensation Games, Channel 4 <br/>May The Best House Win ITV1

When society pays the price
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The Independent Culture

Steve loves his job. I can see why. He spends most of his time getting money for nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly, but stuff more of us wouldn't bother with: wonky paving stones, shaving cuts, broken toes. Steve, see, works in compensation claims. Last night, we got to follow him and his fellow ambulance chasers in Channel 4's Scams, Claims and Compensation Games.

"I believe I fight on behalf of the underdog," he said. What he means, of course, is: I sometimes fight for the underdog, but spend most of my time fighting for people who don't want to accept responsibility for their mistakes and so try and sue someone instead. Or people who think there should be even more health-and-safety regulations than there already are. Or utter chancers who think they can make a quick buck.

Like Richard. He had managed to cut himself shaving (not, admittedly, his fault: the safety guard on his razor broke, leaving his skin open to the unprotected blade underneath.) He was left with a scar, true, but only a tiny one, barely visible. He has another scar, on his chin, which is considerably more visible. At one point, he was examined by a plastic surgeon to gauge how severe the psychological effects of his new scar were. It was quite clear that he wasn't in the slightest bit bothered. "I don't really care about it," he reflected. Neither did the surgeon. "If I were him, I wouldn't necessarily bother."

Still, bother he did, calling Steve up to see what he might pocket from the razor company. Steve decided it could be rather a lot. All they needed to do was argue that a scar might deter employers, since people might think Richard a thug. Quite how this floated, when he had another, far more prominent scar, escapes me, but float it did. He was awarded £6,000 by the courts.

At least Richard is suing a private company. Far more damaging can be the claims made against local authorities. We met Glen, who fractured his foot while playing football at school. His parents wanted to sue the school for not doing anything about it. The school, on the other hand, claimed he didn't complain to the first aider. Whatever the case, Glen got his £2,000 payout, which he plans to spend on a car. It's curious, since the curse of "elf and safety" is so often blamed on the government – but who can blame them from banning three-legged races et al when this sort of thing goes on? The worst thing, of course, is that it's taxpayers' money paying that will be paying for Glen's car.

With every victory, Steve's delight grew. Sticking out his tongue and wriggling his eyebrows, he appeared to be suffering some kind of competitive childhood hangover. He was positively pugnacious when he won. "I'm delighted," he chirped. "Still, must keep it professional!" It's hardly, it had to be said, the most objective of portraits – every time he comes on screen he is accompanied by a kind of Jaws-like soundtrack. Still, I can't imagine that making a flattering film would be too easy. Ironically, the one case I did have sympathy with – a pensioner who tripped on a poorly maintained pavement – was dropped by the claims firm because they didn't think they could win.

Rather more uplifting was May the Best House Win. Four contestants nose around one another's homes, secretly assessing them for the TV cameras and giving them a mark out of 10. It's an amusing concept. It's also blatant rip-off of Channel 4's cult dining competition Come Dine with Me. Even the prize money's the same. But then, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Come Dine with Me (or "Strictly Come Dine With Me" as I find myself calling it) is, after all, utterly irresistible.

Yesterday, we saw four Londoners competing for the prize. All of them could have been found down the local casting agents. There was Donica, a ballet dancer-turned-green activist who picked apart every home he visited on the basis of their heating arrangements. And there was June, the graphic designer, who claimed to hate "higgledy- piggledy", but definitely doesn't hate lining her walls with her own paintings. Then there was Bee, an actress, who seemed very nice indeed. Too nice, perhaps? And Oliver, the opera singer and architectural historian, who was so posh it hurt. He lived in a grand Marleybone terrace owned – surprise, surprise – by his parents.

None of them, to my mind, actually had a terribly nice home. Nicer than mine, probably, but certainly no Grand Designs. This – just like the naff menus served on CDWM – only served to make it all the more enjoyable: the contestants have good reason to be very, very bitchy when looking around. All of which aids the best part of the programme, which comes right at the end: each contestant is given an envelope containing the comments their guests wrote down when they viewed the house. From daytime TV, who could ask for more?

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

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