Those of us committed to operating openly and ethically should not be damaged too.
It has been clear for a long time that the Ministry of Justice is not a great fan of claims management companies (CMCs). Indeed, we are the only sector regulated directly by a government department.
This has meant an ever-growing bank of rules around how we operate, all of which are aimed at stamping out the bad behaviour of what the government likes to call ‘rogue’ CMCs. I have no problem with this. Those that survive should be the companies which offer an ethical service that adds value to client and solicitor alike.
The latest challenge is a fundamental review of the regulation of CMCs, commissioned jointly by the Treasury and the MoJ. A call for evidence has just closed, and the review – led by Carol Brady, chair of the Trading Standards Institute – is due to be completed by early 2016.
We have told the review that there are effectively two CMC markets – financial products and everything else (mainly personal injury). To be clear, my business has no interest in the financial market, but we are concerned that there could be unintended consequences as a result of extra regulation aimed primarily at the activities of financial CMCs.
There are significant differences. Most financial CMCs act directly for clients; on the PI side, we are the conduit to help claimants find the best solicitor for them. The risk of dubious claims is far less when you have that ‘double tick’.
It is clear from both the Claims Management Regulator (CMR) and the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) that financial CMCs are the overwhelming cause of consumer complaints and dissatisfaction. Earlier this month, LeO reported that 94% of the consumer complaints it has received since it took on the jurisdiction this year related to financial CMCs.
On the basis of proportionate and targeted regulation, new measures should be for the financial CMC sector alone. Since we were first regulated in 2008, we have been the subject of just two complaints to the CMR, both of which were rejected.
Of course, there is still bad behaviour among personal injury CMCs, but between the CMR, LeO, Information Commissioner and Advertising Standards Authority, there is more than enough regulation to deal with them.
We also believe that the insurance industry needs to put its own house in order and take a zero-tolerance approach to challenging all dubious claims in court, rather than seeking to get rid of them as quickly and cheaply as possible. The initial cost of doing this will be easily outweighed by the long-term benefit of discouraging such claims.
Further, let’s not forget that insurance brokers, comparison websites and direct insurers – who all process data for the purpose of providing quotations – commonly sell on that information to data-mining businesses, who will contact those consumers who have stated they have had a non-fault accident in the past three years. This should be banned.
The suggested need for greater regulation is aimed solely at CMCs. However, it is common practice for solicitors and/or accident management companies – that are either in an alternative business structure arrangement or have other strategic links with insurers – to contact clients and/or third parties to try and pursue claims on their behalf.
Everyone in the market needs to take responsibility and there must be a level playing field. Other regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Solicitors Regulation Authority, must be encouraged to audit their regulated communities to ensure they are complying with existing regulation.
One size definitely doesn’t fit all when it comes to CMC regulation. If there was not demand for our services, we wouldn’t exist and this review must be careful to make sure that, in targeting the wrongdoers, those of us committed to operating openly and ethically should not be damaged too.
Qamar Anwar is managing director of First4Lawyers