How the RTA Portal works
In 2009 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced reforms that were to streamline the compensation system for low cost RTA personal injury claims (those valued between £1,000 and £10,000). The reforms were hailed as playing an important role in reducing the time taken for compensation to get to the injured party and were formally introduced in 2010.
If you have any knowledge of these claims being dealt with at Fraser Dawbarns you will probably have heard them being lovingly described as the ‘Portal’ claims.
The process is made up of 3 separate stages and strict time limits for insurers and legal representatives were introduced to ensure rapid progress of claims.
Stage 1 concerns notification of the claim by the claimant, and if it is to stay in the process, an admission by the defendant; if all runs smoothly it will proceed to stage 2 of the process.
Stage 2 is when information of quantum (value of the claim) is obtained by way of medical reports (and any other appropriate expert opinion) and disclosed, and the parties exchange offers with a view to settling the claim.
In the event of there being disagreement on the amount of damages claimed by the end of stage 2 the claim will move on to stage 3, where the matter is submitted to the court for determination of the value of the claim either by consideration of the papers or at a hearing.
A claim can exit the process at stage 1 and 2 for specified reasons e.g. the defendant fails to respond within the 15 day time period, contributory negligence is alleged or there is a dispute in relation to the medical evidence. In these cases the claim drops out of the process and reverts to the pre action protocol as set out in the Civil Procedure Rules.
Whilst broadcasting a process that would speed up and reduce the costs of personal injury claims, this went hand in hand with some solicitor bashing. It was declared that legal representatives added 10% to motor premiums paid by all motorists and therefore under the new procedure legal costs would be fixed (for fixed read ‘low’) and Solicitors were encouraged to look at profitability on a longer term basis and consider the ‘very big savings’ that we would be making; I could go on but I will spare you the rant.
There are therefore fixed recoverable costs which apply to all the stages: £400 in stage 1, £800 in stage 2 and £250 in stage 3 if there is a paper hearing or £500 for an oral hearing.
An electronic portal was introduced to support the process and this was intended to provide a secure electronic exchange of all relevant claim information, including medical reports, between solicitors and insurers.
The Portal’s launch in 2010 was introduced as a ‘clear and user-friendly system’ but of course the reality was that it was plagued by technical gremlins; I can’t speak for this firm but woeful cries of ‘I can’t log on’, ‘goddamn Portal’ and the phrase of last resort ‘I am going to take this computer outside and set fire to it’ echoed around my office at the time. To make matters worse the ‘one stop helpdesk’ seemed to consist of a need-a-year-to-read-it handbook and 1 person managing the phones – so it was in fact more of a ‘sorry I’m afraid I can’t help’ desk.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that having gone through several revamps the Portal in its present form is much improved and on its way to achieving MOJ aims. Solicitors access the Portal via their web browser or case management software and the process can be managed in an uncomplicated way, albeit within challenging time periods that apply.
The MOJ now proposes to extend the Portal to include employers� liability, public liability and higher value RTA PI claims (up to a value of �25,000) and is exploring the possibility of extending the framework to include low value clinical negligence claims. This has lead to concerns that it will become the norm for solicitors to have to deal with a complex injury claim with potentially disputed losses of different kinds, and disputed medical evidence via a production line, one-size-fits-all process.
With a standardised system that is process-driven the inevitable danger is that every client will be treated the same and not as an individual. Whilst most solicitors are happy with anything that improves efficiency, the portal reflects a factory setting where the client is treated as an item that travels down a conveyor belt rather than an actual person who has suffered injury through no fault of their own. The process also de-professionalises personal injury work and if the process is to expand it seems inevitable that these claims will be more often than not dealt with by unqualified fee earners.
The difficulties experienced during the introduction of the Portal scheme and constant upgrading of the system also raises concerns about its capacity to expand. I am reliably informed that the technology of the Portal itself will need to expand and a huge amount of development will be required, not to mention the heap of tech homework for solicitors like yours truly. Whilst this solicitor has no real problem with IT and no problem with working with fixed costs it is clear that there are challenging times ahead for those working in the field of personal injury if proposals to extend the process are realised.
By Janet Lane