Law firm chief executive acknowledges that despite ‘issue after issue’ and ‘moaning’, the Official Injury Claim portal ‘is not going away’

The insurance claims industry needs to band together and create a “thematic response” to ongoing challenges arising from the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal because it “is not going away” – despite “issue after issue” still being uncovered nearly a year after its initial implementation date, said Shirley Woolham, chief executive of legal firm Minster Law.

The OIC portal, which was created by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), launched on 31 May 2021 to empower litigants in person (LiPs) to progress their own whiplash personal injury claims online following a road traffic accident.

The portal is the first part of the Civil Liability Act 2018 to come to fruition – alongside a corresponding compensation tariff table – despite encountering a number of deadline setbacks since its initial ringfenced April 2020 launch date.

After its introduction last year, however, industry participants have been bemoaning the portal’s functionality.

Woolham too has spotted problems. She said: “We’re uncovering issue after issue after issue, which need to be addressed and resolved – from a technology perspective, not just a process perspective.”

The solution, she believes, lies in devising an industry-wide “thematic response”, where the sector spends less time “moaning” about the OIC portal “and more energy making it work” because – very simply – “the portal is not going away”.

Woolham explained: “We’ve always found the MIB to be responsive in terms of addressing issues, but I think we need to have a more thematic response.

“Is [the OIC portal] process working? Are customers really engaging at the speed that they need to? Is it being consistently used by all participants in the industry?

“There are [also] things that we think should be dealt with in a different way, which is rather than us all trying to deal with the MIB to fix technical issues as they emerge, that we take a step back as an industry [and] work with the MIB and the MoJ so that [the portal] really is encouraging claimant participation.

“If the majority of claimants are still represented by a legal representative, it goes to show that it’s not good enough to provide a standalone service to the end customer – it has work and it has to get better.

“We have to work together to make it work.”

Collaboration, consistency and cohesion

In terms of what this “thematic response” looks like in practice, Woolham described it as “much more of a cohesive approach” that could include the creation of an industry working group, for example, to collate firms’ feedback.

She explained: “It means collaborating on the process to make sure that it’s creating the best, most solid outcome.

“It’s ensuring consistency of interpretation of the rules and how that’s deployed through the process and it’s also finding opportunities to create a working group to share our collective frustrations with the process, so we have a collective response to it rather than receiving a fix to an MIB upgrade where you’re not necessarily sure which problem is being fixed and where it’s come from.”

Collective education role

Alongside functionality battles, Woolham also flagged that lack of consumer education around the OIC portal changes has been problematic because “the UK consumer population does not understand that the tariff has been introduced, that there’s been a suppression on the damages, that there’s a new process”.

She continued: “The legal practitioner isn’t just performing a role to facilitate the claimant through the process – [they are] performing an education role that things have changed.

“There’s a gap that needs to be filled in terms of educating customers that there is a new way of doing things that no one is stepping in to resolve.”

Although noting that the UK government should have taken up the educational mantle due to its “desire to implement this change”, Woolham added that a cross-section of insurance businesses will need to “collectively play a role” in informing end customers.

“We all need to play a role in addressing [the lack of consumer understanding],” she said. “One organisation alone cannot achieve the coverage that will be essential to make sure you have that wide consumer understanding.”