Insurers have promised to pass on savings from whiplash legal reform. They must be held to that

The Government is pressing ahead with what has been described as a crackdown, and insurers have again issued promises to pass on savings. But already there are signs of backsliding

James Moore
Thursday 23 February 2017 17:27
The Government has confirmed plans to cut compensation to people hurt in road accidents
The Government has confirmed plans to cut compensation to people hurt in road accidents

Bad news if you get smashed up in a road accident. As expected, the Government has confirmed plans to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for road traffic related personal injury claims, £2,000 for other claims, with a fixed set of tariffs for awards and a requirement for medical evidence.

In essence, if you get hit and hurt, you’re going to face a difficult time getting help. You’ll be at the mercies of the small claims court, without the ability to reclaim the cost of legal representation. You’ll likely be on your own in a battle with an industry not renowned for playing nice at the best of times.

The Government, which sneaked the announcement out alongside a big package of prison reforms, has done little to justify this change, beyond pointing to sensationalist media reports about a small number of alleged cash for crash scamsters.

Quite apart from denying people access to assistance when it comes to dealing with insurers, which, as I can testify, is very necessary, the Law Society fears that a strained court system will be stretched to breaking point as a result of a rash of claims being filed at the small claims court. The Government, presumably, hopes people just won’t bother, even if they’ve been quite badly hurt.

Its reforms have been made in the interests of its friends in the insurance industry, which quite likes the idea of having fewer claims to deal with and wants to make more money.

Insurers say they will pass any alleged savings on to motorists. But that promise is reminiscent of another recent “promise”, the one made by the Leave campaign concerning the alleged £350m a week that is supposed to be available for the NHS when Britain no longer pays into the EU budget.

There is a growing movement that intends to hold Michael Gove and his pals to account if they fail to deliver on this after Brexit. The weasel worse that have since been heard from Leave campaigners, suggesting that it wasn’t actually a promise, are receiving short shrift, as well they should.

The same should be true of the insurance industry. If premiums rise, if the alleged savings aren’t passed on, Justice Secretary Liz Truss and her insurer allies should be similarly held to account.

By that, I mean people like David Williams, who has the title of technical director for AXA, whatever that means. He said this: “By drastically reducing the cash incentive for these claims the Government has taken a strong stand in favour of honest motorists who will now save around £40 on their motor insurance premiums.”

You can almost visualise him puffing out his chest, and stomping around his office. All hail the defender of the honest motorist. Until they have to make a claim.

Then there is Rob Townend, claims director at Aviva. Mr Townend said this in response to the announcement: “We will pass on 100% of the savings to our customers, and we hope that Government will also do everything it can to keep the cost of insurance down.”

That’s nice. But he also said this: “Reform cannot come soon enough – we remain concerned that hard-pressed motorists will not feel the benefit until Autumn 2018.”

Ah. I see. I don’t know that looks like to you. It looks to me like an attempt to kick passing the alleged benefits from the Ministry of Justice’s proposals out into the future. When it’s very possible people’s attention might be on other things.

I’d be willing to bet that, if premiums keep on rising as they have been, we’re going to hear a lot of but, but, buts from the likes of Mr Townend, and Mr Williams when people start asking why they aren't seeing the benefits from whiplash savings.

Insurers typically take every opportunity they can to blame anyone other than themselves and their desire for higher profits when premiums rise. Well, sorry, but that won't wash this time. Where I come from a promise is a promise. I’m expecting to see premiums falling. If they don’t, you know who to get in touch with.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments