COMMONS

Curb sharp practices and impose tougher compensation threshold for whiplash say MPs

12 January 2012

MPs have called on the insurance industry to abandon sharp practices in the management of car accident claims to curb the runaway cost of motor insurance premiums. The cross party Transport Committee has also called for the Government to impose a higher threshold for the payment of any compensation in whiplash cases.

In a report that follows up the Government’s response to the committee's March 2011 report on the cost of motor insurance, the Transport Committee warns that the spiralling cost of motor insurance is primarily the result of market dysfunction and, in particular, the escalation of uncontested claims for whiplash injury.

Launching the latest report, Louise Ellman, Transport Committee Chair said:

"Insurers, solicitors and claims management companies have themselves driven up the cost of motor premiums by encouraging people caught up in road accidents they did not cause to claim for personal injury, car hire, and other legal costs.

Although we strongly support access to justice, drivers should not be railroaded by cold callers into launching legal action. The insurance industry must abandon sharp practices that push up premiums such as passing drivers' personal data to other parties or taking secretive referral fees from solicitors, garages and car hire firms."

The committee also concludes that the rise in personal injury claims is the main reason for the rise in premiums.

"Many of these claims are for whiplash, an injury where diagnosis is often subjective and therefore very costly for insurers to challenge. The threshold for receiving compensation in whiplash cases should be raised and, if the number of such claims does not fall significantly, the Government should bring forward primary legislation to require objective evidence - both of a whiplash injury and of it having a significant effect on the claimant’s life - before compensation is paid," adds Louise Ellman.

MPs also question the effectiveness of the Government's recent decision to ban referral fees relating to personal injury cases, particularly once rules restricting the ownership of law firms are relaxed.

"The Government should ensure that the new legislation is implemented in a manner that will prohibit insurers from receiving referral fees across the board rather than simply in relation to legal action.

Greater transparency is also essential. To expose the 'merry-go-round', the Government must oblige insurers to provide clear information to consumers about how and where they pay referral fees," adds Louise Ellman. 

The committee also cautions that numerous factors combine to affect the cost of motor insurance and that tackling any in isolation will not deliver a significant or lasting reduction in premiums.  MPs therefore call on the Government to:

  •  Review how well the 'pre-action protocol' and 'online portal' established to handle low value insurance claims have operated since their introduction in 2010. Results should be published within six months.
  • Establish a cross-departmental ministerial committee on reducing the cost of motor insurance and publish a plan to address each aspect of the problem. 
  • Send a clear message to the insurance industry that it expects 2008 data protection legislation to be fully respected and impose stricter penalties for any breach.  
  • Initiate an investigation of cold calling undertaken to generate personal injury claims and then examine the legal and regulatory options for curtailing this activity.

Lastly, the committee confirms that previous recommendations related to the cost of insurance for young drivers will be followed up further in a forthcoming inquiry on road safety.

Background

At the start of 2011 the Transport Committee held a short inquiry into the rising cost of motor insurance. This examined the reasons and consequences of recent increases in premium; the impact on young people of the high costs of motor insurance; the extent to which the cost of motor insurance is influenced by the prevalence of road accidents, insurance fraud, legal costs and the number of uninsured drivers and what steps the Government might take in response to policy issues in this area. The committee published its report on 11 March 2011

The committee published the Government Response to its report on 9 September and decided subsequently to reopen the inquiry.

In November 2011 the Committee also initiated a debate in the House of Commons using time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee at which the House passed – without division – a motion calling for the Government to establish a cross-departmental ministerial committee to develop a plan to deal with the different aspects of the problem and to bring forward measures to curb the cost of motor insurance.

Further Information 

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