The countdown until the launch of the new Official Injury Claim portal has finally begun following February’s regulations – Insurance Times explores whether firms are operationally ready for the upcoming changes and what work is still left to do

At the end of February, the personal injury sector finally received the news it had been waiting for: the Whiplash Injury Regulations 2021 had been published by the government and the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal was ringfenced for a 31 May launch date.

Falling under part one of the planned whiplash reforms, the portal’s launch has been postponed four times to date, from April 2020 to August 2020, then to April 2021 and, lastly, May 2021. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) blamed this, in part, on the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the February announcement, however, firms that deal in personal injury claims now have a three-month countdown to complete any operational final flourishes in readiness for the portal’s implementation.

This timeline has received mixed reviews from industry voices.

For Aviva’s claims director Andrew Morrish, insurers asked for a minimum of three months to prepare and that’s exactly what they’ve got, meaning “if any insurers are now turning around [and] saying this is a bit tight, then yes, it might be a bit tight, but it’s what we asked for, so I don’t think anyone can really cry foul at this point”.

He continued: “Whilst it might feel a little bit rushed towards the end, these are reforms that really shouldn’t surprise anybody.

“The last detail of the rules, we’ve all been a bit frustrated around how late they’ve arrived, but the fundamentals are not massively different to what we’ve known all the way through, so we don’t buy too much into any claim that it’s going to be operationally terribly challenging for these to be implemented.”

Minster Law chief executive Shirley Woolham, on the other hand, thinks the industry “would have preferred more time”.


In 2020:

  • Average personal injury claim payout: £12,000.
  • Average value of paid motor insurance claims: £4,000.
  • Number of motor insurance claims settled: 2.1 million.
  • Overall payouts for motor insurance claims: £8.3bn.

Source: ABI

What all industry participants agree on, however, is that the OIC portal launch cannot be a ‘once and done’ process because “on day one, the service that the claimant is going to get isn’t what they should get because we haven’t had enough time to develop [the] operational processes and best practice to be able to deliver that”, added Graham Pulford, chief executive of handl Group.

Morrish agreed: “We all have to go into this a little a bit realistically, accepting that it may not be perfect on day one. Learning as we all become more familiar with the rules was always going to happen, even if we’d had six months to prepare for it.

“Once we’re doing this in real life, it’ll start to throw out the bugs and all the things we were always going to have to get tweaked afterwards.

“There’s almost bound to be an ongoing refinement of how our operational processes work because we’ve designed them in a way that assumes a whole bunch of things around behaviour and how easy it is to navigate, for example.”

Woolham added: “No matter how much work has gone into this, what will be absolutely true is that it won’t be perfect. It should be a constant journey of continuous improvement.”

With this in mind, internal systems integration with the new OIC portal is still underway for many insurers, said Pulford.

“It’s not that easy just to go and get all things linking, especially when you use multiple claims systems within your organisation, for example, as the larger [insurers] do,” he explained.

“What we find is that people will then, instead of doing data transfer, they’ll be uploading stuff manually on behalf of their claimants, again adding cost to their organisation. I think we’ve got quite an uphill challenge there.”

Staff support

One key facet of implementing such a fundamental operational change centres around firms’ staff – businesses have to ensure that claims employees understand the new rules, how the portal itself works and the processes around it, as well as understand how the new tariff bands should be applied.

Because there are still “grey areas”, Pulford said he’ll be putting his “best staff on this” because “they’re going to have to make some decisions on the fly based on circumstances”.

Woolham, however, plans to adopt a “task-based, productionised way of working”, such as “people focused on certain activities, including those who have a singular focus on getting in touch with our customers, people who are singularly focused on valuing medicals”.

Woolham is also considered extending her firm’s opening hours in response to the fact that litigants in person (LIPs) will be able to access the online portal over a wider timeframe.

Morrish added that some firms may opt to train all relevant employees on the new portal processes, while others may train select staffers and build up a team in reaction to claims demand.

Pulford and Woolham both agreed that working out where automation can play a role is likely to come at a later date, when firms have a greater understanding of how portal works in practice.

It is this underlying uncertainty on final practices which has meant staff training is one of the final checkboxes left to be completed for many businesses.

“Training too early isn’t a good idea anyway because people forget, or it becomes a bit stale by the time we have to make operational change anyway. All of our training was always going to be in the last two or three months in any event,” Morrish said.

Woolham agreed: “We need more clarity on the rules before we can have more certain training. There’s just no question of that.”

According to Willie Pienaar, chief executive at Nuvalaw, employee “training will be an ongoing, iterative process”.

Caroline Johnson, technical claims director at LV= General Insurance, added: “Staff training will be critical and our people will need to be trained to use the new whiplash portal, as well as any other internal process changes needed.

“At LV= GI, we’ll be training our people in advance of the launch and that will continue over the summer months, to make sure everyone using the portal is comfortable and can navigate their way through the new systems easily and effectively.”

Morrish further flagged that home working could impact on employees’ traditional learning methods.

“We’ve got to be a lot more deliberate about how we encourage learning across our teams and peer and colleague learning in a virtual environment. That’s probably the operational thing that needs a lot of thought – that we can spot what’s working, we can share learning and all of those good things quickly,” he said.

Implementation checklist

According to Shirley Woolham, chief executive of Minster Law, there are four key actions that insurance businesses must have “ticked off, or at least massively in execution” at this point, otherwise “you’re way off the pace”.

These are:

1. Develop a digital process that is built around data as a decision-making asset, to drive out places where firms can use automation.

2. Work with the company’s supply chain to find opportunities to integrate and share data, to improve customer experience and case progression.

3. Reorganise and redesign how work is going to be executed at a people level. This includes rethinking how to apply people skills to digital processes.

4. Think about how to get customers to perform what is needed to get their case progressed. For example, is the process easy and straightforward enough? Is there ongoing investment in customer interaction?

Weekend working

Despite the fact that the new portal is launching on a bank holiday Monday – which Woolham described as not “especially well thought through” – none of the businesses Insurance Times spoke to thought this would be an operational pain point.

“Any organisation that is customer facing should have all their operations capable of working over a bank holiday. We prefer it not to be a bank holiday, but I don’t think it causes too [many] concerns,” Woolham said.

Morrish agreed: “I don’t think 31 May being a bank holiday makes a big difference at all.”

Plus, the new portal will only be applicable for claims on or after 31 May, Morrish reminded. This means that “volumes are likely to be very minimal in the first weeks” and “new claims will trickle in at first” added Nuvalaw’s Pienaar.

On the flip side, however, Pulford noted that “the other problem that we’ve got with that weekend is it’s the first full un-lockdown weekend, so everybody’s going to be on the move. We expect our accident notifications to go up massively”.

He continued: “We’ll gear up our inbound calls staff to be able to deal with that anyway because of lockdown ending.”

Ian Davies, partner and head of motor at law firm Kennedys, agreed. “Hopefully we will all be released from lockdown relatively soon and when that happens, claims frequency is going to increase,” he said.

“We’re going to then have a new system that’s going to be hitting all of us and that’s going to create operational challenges for the whole of the industry. There’s a busy few weeks [and] months ahead.”

Customer education

Something else that will eat into insurers’ time post-portal implementation is educating claimants on the new process – Pulford described this as an “own goal”.

He explained: “It’s a sunk cost. That’s quite a commercial pressure, certainly for insurers.

“What’s interesting is the more insurers we speak to about that, they’ve not quite got that point in their head, so to speak. Every call that used to take five minutes, is now going to take 15, 20 minutes by the time you’ve explained that. So, we need more people on the ground. That education piece is a bit of an own goal.”

A lack of consumer understanding could also lead to an “explosion of litigation by LIPs expecting consumer-level service and becoming impatient”, added Pienaar.

He said: “We suspect that LIPs may have expectations of receiving money in ‘retail timescales’, leading to frictional contact and potentially an explosion of litigation when this does not happen. The MIB helplines are going to be very busy.”

Will whiplash injury claims still be coming through the MoJ portal?

Insurance firms are going to have to get good at juggling following the 31 May implementation of the Official Injury Claim portal – whiplash claims on or after this date will proceed through the new portal, however claims prior to that date will still progress through the existing Ministry of Justice portal, meaning claims handlers are managing claims through two different portal systems.

portal, technology, using computer

Mike Gilpin, commercial director at Kennedys IQ, explained: “Clearly everyone is going to face an initial learning period, where training familiarisation will be a top priority for compensators, especially when you consider that claims will continue to flow through the existing MoJ portal at the same time.

“Those handling modest volumes will need to keep a vigilant watch on new claims as they arrive to make sure they can process them in a timely manner, while those with larger volumes will probably be more concerned with learning quickly from early data on the actual use of the system.”

Graham Pulford, handl Group’s chief executive, doesn’t think the sector will be much impacted by this, however, because “we’re used to legislative change”. He instead described this balancing act as “a good challenge”.

Meanwhile, Andrew Morrish, Aviva’s claims director, added: “It’s not as though everything we’ve currently got is going to transfer into the new regime from the 31 May. There’ll be a gradual build up from then.

“That’ll be one of the other challenges, managing claims under the old rules and claims under the new ones, while one lot runs down and the new cohort just grows. Operationally, we’ll all have to manage that.”