A ban on cold calls and texts could clean up the reputation of the PI sector.
It seems that, for the most part, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has found something on which claimant personal injury lawyers, insurers, the wider public and the government can agree. While the battle continues to bring down the cost of car insurance and keep the justice system intact for the injured people who need it, voices from all corners agree that cold calls and texts about personal injury claims are a problem.
The government wants to tackle the so-called ‘claims culture’ by abolishing general damages for some personal injury claims. Christina Rees, until recently shadow justice minister, asked exactly what the government means by the term ‘claims culture’ in the context of small-claims reforms, announced in the chancellor’s autumn statement. Justice minister Dominic Raab answered that ‘the autumn statement referred to the cost to society of the substantial industry that encourages claims through cold calling and other social nuisances and which increases premiums for customers’.
But the social nuisance to which Raab refers is not in the line of fire of government reforms. We think it should be. We think the government is aiming its guns at the wrong target.
APIL warned the government 10 years ago what would happen if conduct rules for claims management companies were not stringent enough. We said loopholes would be exploited. Calls and texts are so rife now that it is difficult to find someone who has not received a nuisance, or otherwise unwanted, call about making a claim. The Labour government did not listen then and no one has listened since.
We think cold calls and texts about personal injury claims should be banned. But until the government does something about it, APIL’s Can the Spam! campaign provides a place for people to feed back their experiences and report unwanted calls and texts.
Our key concern is that cold calls and texts perpetuate the false premise that compensation is ‘easy money’. They can also be intimidating for vulnerable people. Some calls go as far as to offer money for injuries the person does not have. This encourages fraud, which is a whole other issue but, of course, one to be taken very seriously.
But it is the active pursuit of people, encouraging them to make claims whether fraudulently or not, which creates the perception of ‘ambulance-chasing lawyers’ and a ‘claims culture’. If Raab is to be believed, it is this perception which has got us into the position we are in.
So determined is the government to hammer away at the wrong target, we could be waiting for it to make the obvious move and abolish these calls and texts for some time. We are in a period of uncertainty, following the EU referendum, as to whether the government will put its pre-vote agenda on the back-burner or want to be seen getting back to business.
People do not know that lawyers are already banned from making calls and texts to drum up business, whereas CMCs and others, such as dedicated lead-finding companies, can approach people in this way. What people do know is that they have received a call they did not want, about an accident they did not have, to make a claim for compensation to which they have no right.
A ban on cold calls and texts could clean up the reputation of the personal injury sector and, in an ideal world, help to prevent further attacks on the sector. This effect reaches further than it first seems. The reputation of the personal injury sector affects the people it exists to serve. We are all potential victims of needless injury. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the problem by imposing harsher fines on those who misbehave, the problem could be solved with a straightforward ban. Only those who profit from the practice would miss it. We know from our own research that most people hang up immediately or do not answer.
The practice affects us all, as citizens and lawyers. Tackling it is, surely, something we could all support.
Neil Sugarman is president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers