A report by the cross-party committee of MPs raised concerns that only “just over a quarter” had reached settlement, despite the system being set up in May 2021 as part of the Government’s Whiplash Reform Programme to reduce the disproportionately high number and cost of whiplash claims in England and Wales.
The Justice Committee’s report highlights that for the minority of cases that have reached a settlement to date, the average time taken to do so is 251 days and is predicted to increase further as more complex cases, which have taken longer to reach conclusion, begin to settle.
The latest monitoring data for OIC up to 30 June 2023 showed that 568,214 claims had been submitted since its launch, and only 146,626 had reached settlement to date—just over a quarter.
In addition, 72,141 claims had exited the portal for a reason other than settlement, of which 8,023 had gone to court. This means that approximately 349,000 cases remained in the portal pending a resolution—up from just under 212,000 at the same point in 2022.
For those claims that do reach settlement, the latest monitoring data shows that in the quarter to 30 June 2023, it took an average of 251 days for a claim to reach settlement—up from 238 days in the previous quarter, and 227 days before that.
In its report, the Justice Committee raised concerns in relation to the operation of the OIC service to date which were highlighted in the written evidence it received.
Despite having been designed for claimants to use without the need for legal representation, of the total number of claims submitted via the portal since its inception, 56,064 (10%) of claims were brought by unrepresented claimants, whilst 514,150 (90%) of claimants had legal representation.
The report noted the low proportion of unrepresented claimants using the OIC portal reflects both the “complexity of the process for claimants attempting to navigate it by themselves and a lack of awareness of the new process”. One submission branded it a “policy failure”.
The report concluded “it is not clear to what extent a lack of awareness of the portal is responsible for the low number of unrepresented claims”. It recommended that the MoJ and Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) conduct research to better understand this and whether steps to improve awareness of the OIC portal and user-confidence in the system would encourage more litigants in person.
Evidence submissions also expressed concern about the lack of system integration between the OIC portal and existing case management systems used by legal professionals.
The report recommended it is “vital that any technological problems which professional users of the OIC face that affect efficiency, accuracy or timeliness are resolved as a matter of urgency”. The Committee added the MoJ should set out what steps it is taking in conjunction with the MIB to address these concerns, and when it expects them to be resolved.
The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP (Con, Bromley & Chislehurst), said:
“One of the objectives of the OIC portal was to simplify and speed up the process of making a claim for whiplash injuries.
Whilst we acknowledge that the nature of the claims process is such that there will always be a stock of cases in the portal at different stages in the claims lifecycle, and that some will take longer to reach a resolution than others, we recommend the MoJ investigates further the reasons for the growing number of unresolved cases and the deterioration in the timeliness of reaching settlement, and publishes its findings by the end of the year.”
It should also include an analysis of timeliness in comparison to how equivalent cases previously progressed in the MoJ’s Claims Portal and of the apparent disparity in settlement times between represented and unrepresented claims.”
The report also noted the Government had estimated that the savings made by insurance companies under the whiplash reforms, would lead to a reduction in motor insurance premiums by approximately £35 per policy. However, the majority of the evidence submissions received noted that motor insurance premiums have continued to rise.
The report concluded it was vital that the direct effect of the whiplash reforms is properly assessed, recommending that given the reforms are still bedding in and the large number of cases still awaiting settlement, the Government conduct a follow-up assessment one year after the publication of its planned review in 2024-25.