The whiplash reforms are coming

James Hutchinson, Recruitment Consultant08 April 2019

There’s some uncertainty in the personal injury market at present, due to the pending whiplash reforms (The Civil Liability Act) which were meant to come into effect in April 2019 but have now been pushed back to April 2020 due to the government’s time being taken up by delays with Brexit.  It seems, given more recent news surrounding Brexit, that these delays are set to continue and could well lead to the reforms not being enforced until sometime in 2021 - potentially. 
But what do the reforms entail and ultimately, how will they impact the PI market?

Small claims to go up

As it stands, there are proposals for the small claims limits to be increased.  For RTA claims, the small claims limit which is currently set at £1,000 will rise to £5,000.  On all other PI claims, the limit will rise to £2,000 and there will be a tariff damages system put in place for valuing whiplash injury claims, which is much lower than the current values, up to a 24-month injury prognosis.

New injury portal system
There will also be an online injury portal system developed and implemented whereby litigants-in-person will be able to submit their own claims to insurers.  The new, ‘easy-to-use’ portal is set to come into force in April 2020 and will only apply to accidents occurring on or after that date, but doubts have been expressed by many as to whether it will be up and running in time.  Testing of the portal is set for October this year despite several major challenges still to overcome. 

How do the reforms impact the PI market?
Nobody will really know the true effect of the reforms until they are fully functioning, but it is expected they are likely to have significant impact on those firms whose business models centre around RTA personal injury claims.  Of course, any claims of an RTA nature valued at over £5,000 will remain unaffected, but it is expected most RTA whiplash personal injury claims are likely to fall below the new proposed £5,000 limit.  In effect, solicitors will no longer be able to recover their costs for the lower level claims, which will result in solicitors being unable to assist claimants.  Without such support, there will likely be an increase in the number of people running their own claims via an online portal while trying to navigate complex legal procedures, medical terminology and settlement negotiations.  And what about those who are not online?

Impact on law firms
With fewer claims requiring legal support, those firms dependent on personal injury work will feel the pressure for sure.  Many firms have been resistant to the forthcoming changes and continue to be so, especially when you consider they could lead to redundancies and worse still, firm closures.  But it’s more than just the commercial risk which has seen firms take a negative stance against the reforms.  It comes down to good old-fashioned legal services and giving people access to the support and advice required at a very difficult time.  The reforms will prevent people from accessing the vital justice they need, likewise any treatment for injuries which may be imperative for their long-term health.  But, while there’s certainty the reforms will happen - RTA personal injury lawyers will be looking for loop holes in them, just as they did when the Jackson Reforms were implemented.

Down but not defeated
It’s a never-ending battle for those firms working in the claim sector – dealing with changes in legislation that impact the bottom line and prevent long-term planning.  But the nature of a PI law firm must be just that, one which is prepared for changes to hit, and can adapt accordingly.  Being one step ahead and able to realign staff as well as diversify into new areas of claimant work is vital to long term success.  Being able to look at the whole firm strategically and analyse where new strengths might lie and build teams around those areas will be key to the firm’s survival.  Sometimes the proof is in the pudding as they say and years down the line, when there’s uproar from the public at the lack of fair compensation due to there being a gaping lack of legal expertise, we may well see a resurgence in lower value claimant work.  But while it’s due to be a turbulent period ahead (when exactly we’re not yet sure), the most agile firms with a game plan will be the ones most able to steer through the disruption.

James Hutchinson, a former Fee Earner in Personal Injury himself, specialises in helping PI lawyers of all levels and experience with their legal careers.  If you are unsure of your future as a Personal Injury lawyer or would like to discuss your circumstances and options in confidence with him, call him on 0161 827 43774. Or send an email in the first instance to, james@interlinkrecruitment.com.


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