At the end of June, the government’s Civil Liability Bill, introduced into the House of Lords in March, began its passage through the Commons. If passed, the bill could limit the rights of hundreds of thousands of people injured at work through no fault of their own.
Currently, anyone who is injured in a workplace accident can claim from the employer the cost of getting legal advice on a possible claim if their injuries would entitle them to more than £1,000. Whether the claim falls under the ‘small claims limit’ is determined by the value of the injured person’s compensation for pain and suffering. If this is £999 or less, the case is dealt with in the small claims court, where legal expenses cannot be claimed.
The bill purports to be about limiting whiplash claims made against car insurers, but the government are also proposing to increase the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 for all cases, including accidents at work, and to £5,000 for road traffic accidents, which includes injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.
£2,000 is a lot of money for most workers, including many working in the NHS. Left to the small claims court, the injured party would either have to take on employers or insurers on their own, or pay for a lawyer to help them – using money that was meant to be compensation for their injuries and losses.
The bill will also have a big impact on the NHS. At the moment, the NHS can recover the cost of treating people injured in road traffic accidents from the insurer of the driver who was at fault. If the bill goes ahead as planned, the cost to the public purse will be around £150m a year, while insurers will see their annual profits boosted by £1.3bn. These are the government’s own estimates, laid out in their impact assessment of the bill.
It is estimated that at least half a million people every year would be left on their own while trade union legal services will be undermined if the bill goes ahead as currently drafted. The government is intending to abandon a principle that has stood for generations: that the person who caused the injury should pick up the bill to ensure the injured get legal help and proper compensation.
The government claims the bill will reduce so-called ‘fraudulent’ claims. However, its figures for fraud come entirely from the insurance companies and are in no way independent. Not even the insurers are suggesting people injured at work are making fraudulent claims. The government is using a ‘crisis’ about the number of whiplash claims ramped up by the insurance industry to take away rights from everyone.
The government claims the bill will reduce insurance premiums but we have been here before. In 2011, the government made huge changes to the rights of injured people which the Association of British Insurers estimates have saved insurance firms an astonishing £11 billion in the years since – yet premiums are higher now than ever.
The truth is that the government’s cries of “compensation culture” and “fraud” are actually a fig leaf to distract people from the government’s true intentions: to attack access to justice for all injured people, including workers, and to pass billions to those in the insurance industry.
These insurer-backed proposals can still be stopped. Help us to put pressure on the government to think again by writing to your MP. For further information and a pre-drafted letter, visit the campaign website or follow @FeedingFatCats on Twitter and support our campaign.
Doug Christie is union and client director at Thompsons Solicitors. Legal Eye does not offer legal advice on individual cases. MiP members in need of personal advice should immediately contact their MiP rep.