Council leaders have urged the government to clamp down on ‘opportunistic’ no-win no-fee compensation claims which they allege are draining taxpayers’ money from local services.
Lawyers are clogging up the system with spurious claims, they argue.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, warned that ‘claims for often trivial or minor incidents risk having a detrimental impact on road repairs and education budgets’. Many such claims ‘arise from lawyers talking people into making a claim with the offer of free legal fees’.
The cost of compensation claims related to the condition of roads last year amounted to £31.6m, according to the LGA, ‘equivalent to the cost of filling more than 600,000 potholes’. The association also cited figures showing that compensation claims related to incidents in schools amounted to £2.7m last year, with the total cost to councils reaching £6m once claimants’ ‘expensive’ legal fees were added.
Councillor Peter Fleming, chairman of the LGA’s Improvement Board, said: ‘It is absolutely right that compensation is made available to people with genuine cases. But councils have feared for a long time that some lawyers are clogging up the system with spurious claims from people just chancing their arm.
‘The vast majority of lawyers do a commendable job. However, there is a small but significant minority of opportunistic lawyers leeching away money which would be much better spent improving our schools and fixing our roads. Some of the claims being made and fees being charged beggar belief.’
He added: ‘The extra burden of spurious compensation claims poses a real threat to councils’ ability to protect the services people value most. Public safety is a priority for local authorities who take seriously their responsibility to avoid these types of claims occurring in the first place by ensuring people do not come to any harm.
‘All too often the only real winners are the lawyers whose huge legal fees can dwarf the compensation payouts received by their clients.
‘Government has already gone some way towards reforming no-win no-fee claims, but we need a further and fuller overhaul of the system to stop opportunistic lawyers lining their pockets at the public’s expense.’
A spokesman for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers commented: ’If councils genuinely think these claims are spurious, then they should stand their ground, but where negligence has led to an injury the injured person should always be compensated.
’Nobody asks to be injured and those who are deserve professional guidance at what can be a stressful and confusing time. Some claims can be complicated and involve a lot of work, and costs can be kept low if all sides behave reasonably. Some high costs for defendants can be cut if defendants admit liability where they are liable instead of dragging their feet which they sometimes do.
He added: ’Claims for personal injury have been subjected to huge reforms during this government, and fees have been slashed to the bone. Lawyers’ fees are subject to among the most intense scrutiny of any profession and the introduction of the portals has led to fixed fees and streamlined processes.’