Regardless of the launch date, there are still likely to be ‘teething problems’ – embedding the new system will therefore be a priority for insurers

Following the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland’s announcement on Monday 11 January that the Litigants in Person (LiP) portal launch is to be delayed by one month until May 2021, Insurance Times hears that insurers broadly welcome this new development – Aviva’s claims director Andrew Morrish even described the government statement as “a rare bit of good news”.

The LiP portal forms part of the Civil Liability Act, which gained Royal Assent in December 2018. It plans to enable claimants to process their own personal injury claims online, up to a revised £5,000 limit, without the aid of a solicitor; this is an increase on the previous £1,000 small claim limit.

Originally, the portal was due to be implemented in April 2020; because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, this week’s revised deadline will be the fourth delay announced by the government.

For Morrish, Buckland’s statement should be viewed positively as it provides certainty for consumers.

He explained: “This is a rare bit of good news for consumers, who have endured a long wait for the whiplash reforms.

“Consumers will appreciate the certainty that this update provides and for good reason: the reforms will reduce pressure on the cost of motor insurance, while ridding our roads from crash-for-cash fraudsters.

“Aviva was the first insurer to call for these reforms, and we stand by our promise to pass on 100% of the savings from the reforms to our customers.”

Welcome news

The ABI has also welcomed the clarified timetable from the government, highlighting that it will continue to support officials ahead of the revised May launch.

Mark Shepherd, assistant director and head of general insurance policy at the ABI, said: “[The] clarification from the government confirming that these much-needed reforms are proceeding and will soon be implemented is welcome. We will continue to work with the government to support their implementation by May.

“We urge the government and rules committee to complete and publish the new rules as soon as possible so that insurers can prepare to engage with the new portal and provide a good service to customers.

“We have always made clear that insurers will require a minimum of three months from publication of the final rules to be ready and we remain firmly committed to this.”

Martin Milliner, claims director at LV= General Insurance, added that the one-month delay is “absolutely understandable”, especially “given the backdrop of Covid and Brexit”.

He continued: “Whilst the final version of the rules have yet to be shared, the previous engagement with the Motor Insurers’ Bureau and the Ministry of Justice has been strong and should enable both compensators and the claimant market to be ready in time for a successful launch in May.

“That said, on day one the new ways of working are unlikely to be without teething problems, so our focus will be embedding the new system in a way that makes sure claimants, whether represented or litigants in person, are treated fairly.”

No clear timetable

Qamar Anwar, managing director of First4Lawyers, takes a more pessimistic stance, however – he feels the government’s continually back-pedalling on a launch date “raises questions about the validity and evidence base around these reforms” as “the proposed whiplash injury changes preceded the pandemic”.

“I think we can all appreciate that this is a challenging time, but the proposed whiplash injury changes preceded the pandemic. The fact that the government is still not in a position to provide the necessary detail raises questions about the validity and evidence base around these reforms,” he said.

“While it is encouraging that the Lord Chancellor recognises the importance of industry preparedness, I would remind him that without the pre-action protocol and practice directions governing the new regime, businesses can do very little to prepare.

“Missing from [the] statement is a clear timetable, which is both predictable and lamentable.

“Now might be the time for the Ministry of Justice to remind itself of its objectives, namely: ‘ensure access to justice in a way that best meets people’s needs and support a flourishing legal services sector’. These reforms fly in the face of both.”

Law firm Slater and Gordon’s chief executive David Whitmore also raised a red flag regarding whether the government has left enough time in which to complete outstanding tasks.

He added: “As we said last year, delay is never ideal, but when the reforms are introduced it is critical they are implemented in a controlled and efficient fashion, ensuring continued consumer support and service. That means full and proper attention has been given to all aspects of the programme - the damages matrix, rules, alternative dispute resolution and so on.

“Given the work still required, we are concerned that the government has left sufficient time to finalise the programme and ensure proper consultation with all stakeholders.”

On track

Meanwhile, the MIB’s chief executive Dominic Clayden confirmed that the build of the portal “remains on track”. 

He said: ”Following the Ministry of Justice’s announcement that the proposed go-live date for the launch of the whiplash reforms is now May, we can confirm that the build of Official Injury Claim Service remains on track.

“This is based on the current assumed scope agreed with the MoJ. MIB will complete the last stages of the build in conjunction with MoJ when the Civil Procedure Rule Committee has agreed the new rules and new pre-action protocol for the new service.

“MIB continues to work closely with MoJ on the run-up to its public launch campaign to help businesses prepare for the launch of the service. We will provide a further update as soon as we can.”