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New rules that came into force on 31st May will remove legal help to road accident victims - but the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has announced it will be stepping in to continue to support any member with a claim to make sure they continue to get specialist legal help.
The changes, part of the Civil Liability Act 2018, will see the small claims limit (below which no legal costs are paid back even if you were not at fault) increase from £1,000 to £5,000.
Since the new limit will cover most road accidents, thousands of people injured through no fault of their own will have to fight insurers on their own and in their own time or pay legal fees up front.
The Government has developed a new Official Injury Claim portal for these cases and published a 64-page guide that has been described as “absurdly complex”, with POA General Secretary Steve Gillan commenting on how “the new portal serves to only complicate the legal process for those unfairly injured on the roads”.
The trade union, alongside social justice law firm Thompsons Solicitors, has long campaigned against the reforms. As a result, the government agreed to exempt vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, children and protected parties – from the increase, and delay any increases to the limit for employers’ and public liability claims.
However, the Government’s decision to proceed with the small claims increase, which will affect at least 80 per cent of road accidents, led the POA to announce that membership of the union will provide cover for members and their families who are injured on the roads.
Mr Gillan continued;
“The new small claims system has created a David vs. Goliath situation for injured motorists who are facing the full might of the insurance industry alone. After a year where POA members have felt the brunt of the pandemic and struggled to keep themselves and prisoners safe, this would have been yet another kick in the teeth.
That is why we made the decision to step in and back our members and their families when they’ve suffered a road accident that wasn’t their fault, to at least try and level the playing field”.
Gerard Stilliard, Head of Personal Injury Strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, added;
“A flashy colour guide which most claimants will give up on after page two cannot make up for the fact that injured people are being abandoned. The government seems happy to lead the injured into an unequal fight against a well-funded insurance industry and we can anticipate that those who have no choice but to fight on alone will end up being brow beaten into taking what they can get. That is why it is so important that the POA is standing beside its members so we can work with them to navigate their way through.
The Government kept emphasising during the passage of these changes through parliament that the systems injured people would need to deal with were going to be ‘straightforward’ and ‘simple’ and would benefit the claimant. The reality is that the new system is anything but and gives free reign to insurers who will face no sanctions if they muck injured people about. No wonder then that when it came to it these changes have been snuck out with almost zero fanfare”.
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‘General damages’ is the amount awarded for pain and suffering. Up until 31 May 2021, any case with general damages calculated below £1,000 would have gone through the small claims track, but now the limit is £5,000. The calculation of whether a case is a ‘small claim’ or not does not include ‘special damages’ - for example, loss of earnings and travel expenses – which usually accounts for around one third of the value of a case. The total value of a small claim could therefore be as high as £6,500 under the new rules.
Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.