The personal injury sector is chomping at the bit to discover whether the LiP portal will actually be ready for use come April 2021 – this has no doubt felt like a long, nail-biting waiting game for industry professionals

By Associate Editor Katie Scott

Although chants of “will they, won’t they?” are usually reserved for celebrity gossip-mongering, I find it is now equally apt when discussing the impending Litigants in Person (LiP) portal, which is included within part one of the whiplash reforms, or the Civil Liability Act.

Katie Scott_bw_path

Katie Scott

The continued delay in the portal’s launch has had the entire personal injury market on tenterhooks – originally earmarked for an April implementation, the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any chance of a timely finish, leading the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to announce a revised August 2020 deadline.

Yet again however, the MIB and MoJ has pushed back its plans, with the portal due to now be effective from April 2021 – a whole year after the original go live date.

The consistent sluggishness here appears to me to be derived from two main sources – undoubtedly the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which I imagine has been a colossal spanner in the works for many projects this year, and the delay in setting the Pre-Action Protocol and Rules.

These explain the conduct and set out the steps the court would normally expect parties to take before commencing proceedings for particular types of civil claims.

This seemed to be a problem back in March and April when I was speaking to the industry, and it appears that not a lot has changed on this front.

Earlier this year, after the announcement of the first portal postponement, lawyers, insurers and policyholder advocates in the main agreed that while the news of the delay was frustrating, it wasn’t unexpected due to sector-wide suspicions over how ready the portal actually was for use.

At the time, Qamar Anwar, managing director of First4Lawyers said that the MoJ had “to ensure all the new rules are published without further delay”, yet a year on and the same conversations are taking place.

Last month, however, the MIB confirmed that the portal was “85% ready” and that it would undergo its third round of consumer testing in the new year, ahead of the proposed launch.

My concern here is that 85% is not 100%, or even 90%, and we only have a few short months until April rolls around.

How can businesses within the personal injury marketplace prepare for the portal’s implementation and its use within their work if they are provided with last-minute information?

Surely it would make sense to have the portal ready a bit ahead of schedule in order to smooth any final preparations with the industry and enable a smooth transition into being operational?

Speaking to experts within the personal injury arena, my general takeaway is that although the sector would wholeheartedly love the portal to be fully ready and launched in April – with firms still all working towards this target date internally – I don’t think many actually expect the plans to come into fruition, especially with the shadow of Covid-19 still looming uncomfortably large. The atmosphere is very much one of ‘let’s just wait and see what happens’.

There’s also the undercurrent of fear that the portal will be launched to the public in April come hell or high water, regardless of whether it fully cuts the mustard.

At this point, I’d be inclined to say that a further delay surely isn’t all that bad if it means making the portal better – the industry has waited a year already, a few more months won’t hurt.

Plus, it’s important that the portal and what it means for claimants is actually explained to Joe Public.

Policyholders engaging with the claims process is already a massive hurdle for the industry; add to that a system that no one outside of insurance knows about or understands and this barrier could become insurmountable.

This is a point Anwar raised earlier this year as well. He said: “We need reassurance that plans have been laid for a much-needed public information campaign.

”These reforms are bad enough for injured people without them being left clueless on the changes and how even to access the process.”

As it stands today, no one really knows what is going to happen come April. We may have a fully-functioning LiP portal, we may not. In my opinion, more consistent and transparent communications between the MIB, the MoJ and the personal injury market probably would not go amiss.