The government announced that ‘now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change’
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has today published a written statement confirming that the implementation of the whiplash reforms will be further delayed until April 2021 in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Originally timetabled for implementation in April 2020, the government announced in February that this deadline would instead be pushed back to August in order to give the industry more time to ensure the reform programme was fully ready for implementation.
Today, Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, said that “while the whiplash reform measures remain important, the government is committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where it can”.
Buckland added that pushing the implementation deadline back to next year “will enable key sectors of this country’s business to focus their energies on delivering their response to Covid-19, and will allow the government to focus on delivering key services in the justice area during this difficult time”.
The whiplash reforms, known more formally as Part one of the Civil Liability Act, has been spearheaded by the insurance sector to create a simpler, frictionless personal injury claims process.
It includes a new Litigation in Person (LiP) portal, whereby claimants can 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 claims limit.
The Act, which received Royal Assent in December 2018, also allows a new tariff table, listing set damages for whiplash injuries that impact claimants for between three months and two years; this strives to clarify compensation levels.
Lastly, the Act bans making or accepting offers to settle a whiplash claim without a medical report.
‘Not the time to press ahead’
In his statement, Buckland wrote: “The government remains firmly committed to implementing these measures which are intended to control the number and cost of whiplash claims.
“The government indicated on 27 February 2020 that after careful consideration it had decided to implement the whiplash reforms in August 2020. However, it is apparent that the current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors.
“While the whiplash reform measures remain important, the government is committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where it can.
“As a result, the government has considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.
“We have therefore decided to delay the implementation of the whiplash reform programme to April 2021.
”This will enable key sectors of this country’s business to focus their energies on delivering their response to Covid-19 and will allow the government to focus on delivering key services in the justice area during this difficult time.
“The government will continue to monitor developments in relation to the current pandemic and will, if necessary, make further announcements in regard to the implementation of these important reforms.”
Donna Scully, director at Carpenters Group, agreed that this move from the government is “absolutely the right decision”.
She continued: “Given the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the many issues with the new claims process yet to be resolved, the delay until next year is absolutely the right decision.
“Firms across the sector need time to prepare for the process and we’re all grappling with the current fallout from the pandemic right now, trying to ensure that claimants are helped and still able to pursue claims.”
Shirley Woolham, chief executive of Minster Law, also believes the deadline delay is the correct course of action.
“Insurers and claims firms alike have made [it] clear in recent weeks that a delay is essential while the industry focuses on looking after customers during the Covid-19 crisis,” she added.
“We’re pleased that all sides of the industry have been joined up in calling for a delay, and that ministers have listened. This further delay will hopefully afford the government, MoJ and MIB alike the time needed to ensure the portal works for customers.”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), additionally noted that consumer safeguards within the LiP portal must now be properly considered as “we are no longer rushing towards an artificial August deadline”.
He added: “Preparing for [the reform] launch meant firms were diverting significant investment in human resource and technology away from the crucial challenge of helping consumers and staff get through the Covid-19 crisis.
“This can now be focused on working with insurers and other stakeholders to make sure the wheels of justice continue to turn and ensuring injured people get the support they need.”
President of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers said: “With the current UK wide lockdown it is welcome, albeit unsurprising news that the Government has announced that the Whiplash Reform Programme will be delayed from August 2020 to April 2021.
”The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the insurance, legal, judicial and medico-legal sector and everyone’s priorities must lie in elsewhere in getting through this turbulent period.
”The industry will welcome this news and the delay will allow more time for the outstanding required work by the CPRC and MIB to be completed and for insurers and representatives to fully prepare operationally for the reforms within the Official Injury Portal.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the MIB said: “Nobody could have predicted the exceptional events of the past few weeks and the Ministry of Justice are right to be taking a decision sooner rather than later so all those who need to prepare for the new legislation can adjust their plans.
”MIB continues to make very good progress and we will continue to support the MoJ’s new April 2021 launch date.”
However, the push back on reform implementation hasn’t been well-received in all quarters.
The ABI, for example, whilst understanding of the reasons for delay, is concerned about the resulting impacts on claimants and consumers.
James Dalton, the ABI’s director of general insurance policy, said: “Given this unprecedented situation, we understand that a delay to implementing these much-needed reforms is necessary.
“However, any delay beyond what is absolutely needed will impact on the benefits to claimants and consumers. As an industry we remain committed to continuing to support the Ministry of Justice so that the reforms can be introduced as soon as it is practical to do so.”
Equally, Qamar Anwar, managing director at First4Lawyers, labels the move ironic.
“There is a certain irony in the government delaying an online system when everything else in the world seems to be going online,” he explained.
“However, today’s announcement was inevitable as the Ministry of Justice has dragged its feet in making the decisions needed to meet the April implementation date. And quite frankly, the MoJ’s focus right now should be on helping the many areas of the sector that are in crisis.
“When these reforms come back, the MoJ need to ensure that new rules are published and all the outstanding issues with the claims process are settled to allow businesses on all sides the proper time to prepare.
“When the time is right, we will also 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.”
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