The government department responsible for collating information on personal injury claims has admitted it has not got the capacity to supply reliable data.
A report by defendant firm Weightmans, highlighted today by a claimant firm, says a freedom of information request to the Department for Work and Pensions was denied because figures could not be accurately supplied.
The firm was putting together a third edition of an annual report into the PI sector and asked the DWP for an update to the compensation recovery unit data held by the department.
That request was declined, according to Weightmans, on the basis that 'due to unforeseen circumstances', civil servants 'no longer have the expertise in the Compensation Recovery Unit to produce robust data'.
The report, published in February, notes this lack of expertise came at a time when the government was consulting on the future of low value personal injury claims, stating the inability to produce robust data is a 'concern' and 'perhaps one that would be damaging if it was picked up by the claimant lobby'.
A spokesperson for Weightmans said its analysis from another source, the MoJ claims portal, showed the average value of road traffic accident PI claims rose by 3.4% in the two years to December 2016. She added this represented a 'damages creep' which enhanced the argument for the introduction of reforms.
But the number of claims remains a hotly disputed area in the debate over the need for further reform of the sector. The government had to scrap reforms contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill because of the election, but they were resurrected in the Queen's speech last month through the forthcoming Civil Liability Bill. Background notes to the speech described a 'rampant compensation culture', and it is clear the government has based policy on the belief that claims numbers are too high.
Claimant firm Thompsons Solicitors, which has spearheaded a campaign against reforms and which shared the report, said the Ministry of Justice cannot proceed with reforms, including a new tariff system for RTA claims, when it has no evidential basis for making such significant change.
Tom Jones, head of policy at the firm, said Weightmans' admission was a 'damning indictment' of the government's case and undermined the very basis for reform. 'We now know why they are so reliant on statistics from the very insurers who stand to gain,' he added. 'How can they possibly assert that there is a 'rampant compensation culture' when the truth is they have no evidence to back it up?'
The Gazette has approached the MoJ for comment.