Insurance Industry: Whiplash - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 1st March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative 2:37 pm, 1st March 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to meet representatives of the insurance industry to discuss their treatment of claims for whiplash injuries.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My Lords, meetings have been held with representatives’ groups from both claimant and insurer sectors at both ministerial and official level to discuss the reforms announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Ministers and officials are continuing to engage with interested stakeholders as work on the detail of the Government’s whiplash reform programme develops.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

When my noble friend next meets representatives of the industry, will he ask them to explain cases such as that of Mr John Elvin of Watford? Mr Elvin was involved in a negligible traffic incident where there was no apparent damage to either vehicle. At the first opportunity, he notified his insurers—esure—that he was subject to what he believed was going to be a false whiplash and damage claim. Despite a series of requests, esure has given no indication that it has investigated this case in any way. Is this not an example of the reason why the industry is known in this country as “the whiplash capital of the world”? It is the consumer who ultimately pays for this cavalier attitude.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My noble friend is quite right to draw the House’s attention to the very major problem of the significant increase in the number of claims and our large number of claims in comparison with other European countries. One of the reasons that insurers give for settling these claims is that it costs them too much to fight the case. Of course, if our plans to raise the small claims limit to £5,000 come into effect, this will no longer continue to be a valid reason for not contesting claims. Anyone who is notified of what sounds suspiciously like a fraud should not do anything to encourage it. If individuals are invited to take part in such an endeavour, they are potentially committing a criminal offence.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, the Minister referred to the court costs. Have the coalition’s policies of banning referral fees produced any results? Has the number of frauds gone down? Are there any statistics on that as yet, following the Insurance Act 2015?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The Government are attacking this problem on a number of different fronts. Referral fees is one; the LASPO reforms is another; and there is the MedCo portal, which means that all whiplash injuries must go via a neutral evaluation with limited costs. All are contributing to a decrease in the number of whiplash claims, but there are still too many, and we still feel that there is fraud at the root of all this.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, of course no one would defend fraudulent claims, whether for whiplash or other injuries. However, the raising of the small claims limit to £5,000 will represent a further reduction of access to justice to people and even businesses of modest means with valid claims. Given that the Government claim the insurance industry—in which motor insurers alone receive £15 billion a year in premiums—will save £1 billion from the increased limit, having already saved £7 billion in the last four years, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that any further savings from their latest surrender to the industry’s interests will be substantially passed on to policyholders? Or is this to compensate the industry for the insurance tax levy increase, which it will no doubt in any case pass on to policyholders?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

There is no question of the Government surrendering to the insurance industry, as the noble Lord puts it. The insurers already announced that they will reduce the premiums to insurance companies by £50. We will watch insurance companies very carefully to see whether they translate their promises into action. Of course, as all noble Lords will know, insurance is a highly competitive world. All of us will have been irritated by the invitations to compare the market. Ultimately, the market should prevail.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, the whiplash phenomenon is thought to occur usually when a vehicle is struck heavily from behind, with the result that the passenger or driver in the vehicle that is hit has a sharp flexion of the neck followed by a sharp hyperextension. If it happens that the individual in question already has disc degeneration in the neck, there is no doubt at all that this may on occasions result in actual damage to the spinal cord with significant physical results. However, in the great majority of so-called whiplash cases, no organic abnormality can be detected. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that some of the claims for whiplash injuries are spurious. Having said that, is it not time yet again for the Government and the medical profession experts in this field to come together to see if they can promulgate some objective means of assessing the significance of these claims?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The noble Lord, with his experience as a neurologist, highlights the complicated nature of this injury and the fact that it is not usually detectable on scans. He also made the point about pre-existing degenerative injury. The effort to achieve some sort of consensus among medical experts has been helped by the MedCo portal. It is remarkable how many of the reports now have a more favourable prognosis than used to be the case before it was introduced.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative

I declare my interests as set out in the register. Will my noble friend the Minister accept that there is serious concern not only in this House but also in the insurance industry at the way in which we have allowed a situation where 80% of all personal injury claims are said to be whiplash claims? Will he find some way of stopping these cold calls? One of my colleagues just had a cold call from a claims management company calling itself the “Department of Compensation”. Will my noble friend please get across to everyone that these people are potentially committing a very serious criminal offence?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My noble friend is, of course, absolutely right. The Government are determined to stamp down on this. Legislation is already in place, primarily enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Government have recently consulted on bringing forward secondary legislation to require all direct marketing callers to provide their calling line identification. Individuals can have a Telephone Preference Service installed on their telephones and we are also exploring the possibility of call-blocking devices for vulnerable consumers.

When somebody rings me, as they do from time to time, inviting me to take part in a fraud, I endeavour to extract details from them without revealing the position I hold. Unfortunately, my voice appears to cause them only to put down the phone.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the rate of whiplash claims in Britain is 20 times as high as it is in France? Have we something to learn from our friends across the channel?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

It is surprising that that comparison should take place at this particular time in the political weather. The noble Lord is quite right. Some 9%, or 225,000, of bodily injuries in France were whiplash, but 76%, or 375,000, in the United Kingdom were.