Two types of people will ever need to use the word portal: Doctor Who fans and personal injury lawyers. While the sci-fi fans need not trouble themselves with low-value motor claims, this is a pressing moment for the lawyers. 

John Hyde

John Hyde

The trouble is, for those firms considering how they will operate from next April, it’s still clear as mud. 

Discussions around the RTA portal are starting to seem like Brexit talk last summer. Everyone knows the end goal - the creation of a portal for letting unrepresented people handle their own claims - but the rest seems like blue sky thinking.

Everyone knows the end date. But just like Brexit, it’s the small matter of the detail that we’ve yet to solve, or even begin to solve.

In theory, the IT Crowd must create a system simple enough for Joe Public to enter their details, background to their accident, details of their injuries and what they want done about it.

But unlike, say, a similar system for rail refunds, these things are not that simple. Claimants are a varied bunch, speaking different languages, some with disabilities, others with limited access to or confidence with computers.

Their account may be disputed by the other side, and they will have their own expectations about the value of their claim which may be difficult to meet.

Not only that, but to make their claim the litigant in person will have to choose their diagnosis provider, potentially pay upfront for the consultation, and understand the results. The insurers will pay the costs if they’ve admitted liability, but what if they don’t? We face the reality that some genuinely injured claimants can’t afford to prove their case because they are too poor. 

What if the portal misses a key question which would establish a claimant is more seriously injured than it thought? The system now means solicitors who make such mistakes are covered by insurance, which can compensate the mishandled client. What redress is there from the new portal? Could we even see a case against the MoJ for not setting the right questions?

There are no civil procedure rules even drawn up to enable this change, and yet testing is due to start in October. And what of that testing? Imagine the scenario: ‘Hello Mr Bloggs, we notice you were injured in an accident. Would you like to act as guinea pig while we process your claim through a computer instead of a lawyer?’ I wouldn’t volunteer - would you? Even if the plan is to test without real claimants, good luck covering all the variables that will need to be assessed.

And what of the insurers themselves? Are they even ready for this seismic change? Are their IT systems sophisticated enough to handle hundreds of thousands of claimants?

The system has more questions than answers, yet in 11 months this is supposed to be up and running. Those 11 months will disappear fast. Just like the UK stayed in the EU after 29 March, don’t be suprised if the portal has yet to go live by next April. At the moment, the outcome and the cost is known, but little else.