ACSO, the newly formed trade association for the claims sector, has urged MPs on the powerful House of Commons Justice Select Committee to lobby the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to ‘open up’ and give more detail about the development of the small claims portal, due to be launched next year.
Ellie Reeves MP (Lab – Lewisham West and Penge) has backed ACSO’s call.
She said: “It is disappointing that the Ministry of Justice are reluctant to provide information about the forthcoming claims portal. When the Civil Liability Bill was passing through Parliament, we were given repeat assurances from Ministers that using the portal to make a claim would be quick, easy and more efficient than the current system. It is unfortunate that we are yet to see any meaningful information on the portal roll-out and its long-term use. I hope the Ministry will use this opportunity to engage with stakeholders and provide us all with a comprehensive update on the portal’s development”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), said in a letter to the Justice Committee that the portal, which is being funded by insurers and overseen by the MoJ, “has been shrouded in secrecy, meaning thousands of businesses serving millions of people each year cannot plan for the future.”
The portal is intended to bring most minor personal injury claims online from April 2020. Ministers believe the system will bring down costs and make it easier for people with minor injuries to make a claim without needing legal help.
Mr Maxwell Scott said: “The then MoJ minister Rory Stewart said in Parliament that the portal launch, which was originally due to be implemented last month, would be postponed by 12 months ‘so we have more time to make sure the testing is done and the portal operates properly.’ (i)
“Our members tell us they need at least 12 months to get ready for the new system, but they still have no clue as to what it will look like and how it will work. The government has done a Brexit with personal injury claims: set a launch date without a plan that explains how to get there.”
Mr Maxwell Scott cited the problems already being faced by legal expenses insurers (LEI). “LEI Policies being written now cover a 12-month period from now into next year when the insurers have no idea what the new regime looks like. LEI providers should be part of the development process, especially as the MoJ has said that this product could give claimants access to legal advice in the post-reform world.
“We have therefore asked members of the Justice Select Committee to step in on behalf of claimants and claims firms who are in the dark about the most important changes to hit the industry for many years.
“There are big questions to answer, for example: how will people without internet access be looked after? How will the system cope with claims where insurers deny liability? How will people get help from a human being if they need it?
“We don’t expect secondary legislation covering the small claims limit and a new tariff for minor injury compensation to come before Parliament until later this year, further underlining that the April 2020 deadline is under serious pressure.”
The letter urges the Justice Committee to hold a short inquiry to give MPs, the claims sector and the public a chance to understand how the portal is progressing.
Mr Maxwell Scott said: “The committee came down firmly against the personal injury reforms after it investigated the government’s plans in 2018. We need them to step in again to make sure the insurance industry and the MoJ are building a system which works for honest claimants.
“ACSO members want to help make the portal function properly. We believe working together will deliver better customer outcomes and a portal that is fit for purpose. We don’t understand the reason for secrecy, and we hope the Justice Committee will agree to investigate.”