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Planned changes to personal injury claims could penalise victims

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been warned by personal injury experts that the government’s plans to increase the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 for minor injury cases could impact up to 350,000 people a year in England and Wales by making it harder for victims to secure compensation from employers under these changes (in Scotland, the small claims threshold is currently at £3,000).

It is believed that the new plans will mean that employees or members of the public who befall injuries estimated to be worth less than £2,000 will be unable to recover the costs of legal advice from those they are suing. Moreover, according to solicitors, unions, and opposition politicians, the victim’s chances of actually winning their cases would be significantly lessened against firms able to afford lawyers to defend them in court.

The MoJ has defended these planned changes by claiming that the doubling of the current value has been implemented to reflect inflation since the original £1,000 threshold was established in 1999. However, those who stand against the increase have argued that taking account of inflation would only raise the limit to £1,500. Likewise, the opposition has also contested that this increase does not take into account other costs such as loss of income either.

Similarly, MPs have also voiced their belief that the small claims threshold should only be raised to £1,500, however this recommendation stems from concerns about the potential complexity and need for litigation in, what they describe as, “maintaining a healthy workplace”.

The Ministry of Justice initially presented this policy within the civil liability bill in March 2018 as part of a larger push to reduce the overall legal costs associated with personal injury claims. However, the reforms (which were scheduled to come into effect in April 2020) have been delayed following a report by the House of Commons’ Justice Committee in May which criticised the policy, stating they were “deeply unimpressed” by the Ministry of Justice’s “inability…to quantify the impact of raising” the threshold. The report is also in agreement that it would be more appropriate to raise the threshold to £1,500 by April 2019 to reflect inflation.

During the delay, the court services are working on the development of an online claims system, which they say will be more customer-friendly and will do away with the need for legal advice or representation – something that is already not required in Scotland for small claims cases.

Additionally, this policy has sparked further outrage amongst opposition as it is set to be achieved through a legislative technique as statutory instrument, meaning that it does not require a vote or to be debated on in the House of Commons.

The shadow justice minister, Gloria De Piero, has scalded the Tory party as “disgraceful” for “avoid[ing] the full scrutiny these changes desperately need”, stating that “workers will be faced with a choice: either pay for legal help out of your own compensation, continue unrepresented and face large insurers who will continue to be able to avoid lawyers, or simply drop the claim”.

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For specialist legal advice and representation for a personal injury claim, contact our expert team of personal injury solicitors today via the online enquiry form.

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