10:25, August 29 39 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-29 10:25:04
Plan to change personal injury claim rules 'will penalise victims'

Victims will find it harder to secure compensation from employers under plans to double the lower limit for recovering costs in minor injury cases, the Ministry of Justice has been warned.

The government is to increase what is known as the “small claims limit” from £1,000 to £2,000. Personal injury experts believe the changes could affect as many as 350,000 people a year.

Employees or members of the public who suffer injuries estimated to be worth less than £2,000 will not, under the changes, be able to recover the cost of any legal advice from those they are suing.

Without expert advice, according to unions, solicitors and opposition politicians, the chances of success will be diminished against firms that can afford lawyers.

The reform is due to come into effect in April 2020. It has been delayed while the courts service develops an online claims system, which it argues will be more consumer-friendly and do away with the need for legal advice or representation.

The MoJ says the £1,000 limit was fixed in the 1990s and should be raised to reflect inflation. Those opposed to the increase say taking account of inflation would only nudge the figure up to £1,500. They also point out that the limit does not include other costs such as loss of income.

The decision to delay introducing the new limits follows criticism from the Commons’ justice select committee. It said it was “deeply unimpressed” by the inability of the MoJ to quantify the impact of raising the small claims limit.

Given the potential complexity of such claims and the important role of litigation in “maintaining safe and healthy workplaces”, the MPs recommended lifting the small claims threshold up only to £1,500.

The policy has been presented by the MoJ, along with its civil liability bill, as part of an overall drive aimed at reducing legal costs associated with injury claims. Changing the small claims limit, however, will be achieved through a statutory instrument, which does not require a vote or debate in parliament.

Gloria De Piero, the shadow justice minister, said: “These changes mean more workers will be faced with a choice: either pay for legal help out of your own compensation, continue unrepresented and face large insurers who will continue to be able to afford lawyers or simply drop the claim.

“Disgracefully, [the government] won’t even be bringing these changes to the floor of the House of Commons where they would be fully scrutinised and debated by MPs. Instead, they’ll be using a statutory instrument; a legislative technique that allows ministers to alter existing regulations without having to have a full debate in the Commons.

“The Tories are trying to avoid the full scrutiny these changes desperately need.”

She gave as an example a recent case of a store assistant who was injured moving stock in a warehouse. The automatic stop function on the electric pallet truck she was using failed to work, running over her foot. It took four months to heal.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said: “The government is depriving many employees access to justice under these reforms. These are people injured while doing their jobs, including refuse collectors picking up needles and paramedics assaulted on duty.

“Ministers say reforms are necessary because of fraudulent whiplash claims. But employees harmed at work shouldn’t end up being penalised. Health and safety standards will fall if employers aren’t challenged, and it’s employees who’ll end up worse off.”

Tom Jones, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors, which advises many unions on personal injury claims, said: “This change represents a lot of money if you are on what most people earn. A claim of up to £2,000 could include broken fingers or minor scarring.

“We believe this could affect as many as 350,000 people a year. When tribunal fees were increased there was a drop-off rate of 90% in the number of cases.”

An MoJspokesperson said: “Compensation in personal injury cases should be fair and proportionate, and making a claim should be as simple as possible.

“That is why we are making the system fairer for all – not least the taxpayer – and increasing the support available for claimants. The claims limit was last set in 1991, and our proposed increase for personal injury cases is in line with inflation.”

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