Chris Grayling must be an easy man to play at Call my Bluff.
It sometimes appears as if you can tell the justice secretary any tall tale and he’ll suck it in – safe in the knowledge that he’s doing the right thing because someone has told him he is.
Take the great insurance premium swindle. A small number of large companies have persuaded him they will reduce the cost of premiums once whiplash claims are cut.
Whiplash costs £2bn a year – a full £90 per motorist. Simply take solicitors out of the whiplash system – and that is inevitable once the small claims limit is increased – and you’ve got yourself vast savings.
Whatever you do, don’t give Grayling a cow or he’ll swap it for magic beans.
Let’s be clear about the great premium con trick. According the insurers’ own figures, fraud accounts for roughly 7% of claims. Still too high, I’ll grant you, but the total of £140,000,000 would save each motorist only £3.83 from their annual premium.
It wouldn’t even buy you a pint at the Christmas party.
If the aim of this change is to deal with fraud then we’re doing it for less than £4 each – and in return we’re giving up any hope of ever getting the kind of compensation we deserve when we’re injured in an accident.
The truth is that the insurance industry – and by extension the government – is taking aim at the 93% of claimants who are honest and genuinely injured. People like you or I who did not choose to be injured and were simply unlucky enough to be involved in an accident.
Without legal representation victims will have no idea how much to settle for and whether the offer from their insurer is fair (which it almost certainly will not be). If they do decide to take it on in court, they will clog up the justice system as judges have to guide them through the process of facing an experienced and ruthless defendant lawyer.
The media have fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. We expect the usual suspects, who simply lap up a decent whiplash story, to round on the legal profession but there was no excuse for the likes of the BBC to ignore the genuine concerns of victims’ groups and choose to quote only Grayling and the Association of British Insurers.
The plain fact, claimant solicitors, is you can’t win. On Monday I spent several hours trying to find out the contents of the next day’s announcement in advance.
The Ministry of Justice simply straight-batted my inquiry and told me to wait for Tuesday morning. In desperation I phoned the ABI. Did it have any idea what was going to be announced? ‘Of course we do,’ their man told me. ‘We were sent the consultation by a journalist earlier today.’
Grayling has played this perfectly. Most of the public now know he’s dealing with whiplash but without having any idea how.
They’ll find out soon enough. If they think this will end those annoying adverts during daytime TV, if they think this will end the compensation culture, if they think this will send their premiums tumbling, they’re wrong.
But when the 93% have an accident they’ll realise what has happened, because they’ll be cluelessly accepting under-value offers for their genuine injuries.
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