Justice officials have conceded there is nothing to stop insurers gaming the new portal system for litigants in person when it goes live next April. Ministry of Justice policy chiefs appeared yesterday at a seminar held to give more detail about how the portal will work. Around 100 stakeholders were in London for a session put together by the Motor Insurers Bureau, which is designing and implementing the portal.
But when solicitors pressed them on how insurers could be stopped from simply denying liability on claims and forcing unrepresented claimants to pay costs up-front, officials paused and appeared to be struggling to find answers. They eventually assured delegates they could take action, but the nature of this action was not specified and it was unclear what safeguards would be in place from day one.
Richard Hutchinson, representing the MoJ, admitted that if insurers denied liability, litigants in person would have to take their case through court – paying the fees associated with this – and fund their own mandatory medical report before the claim went back to the portal.
If the claim was successful, these costs would be recoverable, but there was widespread concern that some legitimate claimants will be put off pursuing their case when faced with such obstacles.
Responding to these concerns, David Parkin, MoJ deputy director for civil justice and law, said: ‘We have a low-cost system for [insurers] to operate. How they respond to claims is something we will use the system to monitor. If there is any adverse or strange behaviour it is something we can take action on.’
Delegates also expressed concern that represented claimants will not have access to a free ADR service being provided for litigants in person, creating a two-tier system for claims.
Brian Coghlan, from north west firm HCC Solicitors, said there remains concern that, where insurers undervalue claims, few represented litigants are going to have the resolve to contest it because the obstacles are so great.
'|f ADR is only available to unrepresented claimants in the new SCT portal process, then represented claimants (ie everyone with legal expenses insurance plus those who choose to pay a lawyer rather than go it alone) will be temporarily kicked out of the new process whenever there is a disputed issue with the insurer (liability or quantum), at which point they would have no option but to issue part seven proceedings 'old school' and go through the entire small claims track directions timetable to a final hearing.'
The MIB continues to work towards implementing the portal for all RTA claims where the accident occurs after 6 April, except where they involve a child or protected party. A contact centre is being created alongside the portal, with testing set to run from mid-November until the end of February.