So now we know the government’s vision for the future: personal injury work almost exclusively reserved for the few claims handlers that can do it in bulk and on the cheap.
RTA claims on a factory line, out of the reach of solicitors, stacking up befuddled injured victims led blindly into settlement. And as for clients who cannot even secure that, they will have to rely on the goodwill of insurers to pay the compensation they deserve in full. (Now go and clear up the coffee you just spat up over the keyboard.)
Doomsday scenarios are nothing new in the legal profession: I’ve been at the Gazette about 20 months and already seen about five apocalypses come and go.
Yet the savage cuts to costs in the RTA Portal really are surely a death knell for a significant slice of the legal population.
How can they be anything but? There are 2,000 lawyers (plus many more support staff) whose job is to work on RTA claims. From next April their income is cut by almost 60% and their livelihood is at stake.
There is no choice but to go through the RTA Portal when liability is admitted. Lawyers cannot set their own fees (or feasibly charge more to clients – that would surely be commercial suicide) and there is no way out of this.
The government seems to think the shortfall will be made up by not paying referral fees when a ban comes into force next April. But what of the firms that already refuse to pay such fees? And do ministers suppose that law firms will advertise for work when their margins are so squeezed?
The trouble for lawyers is that the public won’t mourn for a moment. The driver on the street would be aghast at the thought of solicitors making £500 on every whiplash claim, never mind £1,200.
The Law Society is right to express fears for access to justice, but to the general public that just looks like greedy solicitors feathering their nest. Which is all the more remarkable given that is exactly what the insurance industry has done all along.
Who genuinely believes that car insurance premiums will come down from next April? And by anything close to 60%? That’s what insurers promised when the RTA Portal was first introduced, yet still the cost of cover continued to rise.
The public will go to extraordinary lengths to knock off the tiniest amount from their car insurance. If any carrot, no matter how small or duplicitous, is dangled then they’ll snatch it.
Insurers have won over the public and the government. Their lobbying might is extraordinary, as are their profits. It may seem hopeless for the claimant side and it probably is. But there is one final hope. The government says it wants to hear from interested parties about the effect of these changes.
You have until 4 January to make your voice heard. Rally your clients to do the same. Tell the government exactly what goes into running a claim. Tell them that cases valued at up to £25,000 cannot be run for £800.
Tell them that this is an industry that benefits from solicitors and their expertise. Pick yourselves up off the ropes and come out punching for the final round – it’s surely your only hope.
It might well be a lost cause, but we know for certain that if these costs come into force from April, solicitors simply won’t be involved at all.
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