This article, by Martin Croucher (@postmartinc), first appeared in Insurance Post, 30th November 2016
Simon Stanfield was elected chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors’ Society the day before the Ministry of Justice published its consultation paper on whiplash reform.
Since then, there has also been the Autumn Statement, which raised the insurance premium tax and called for a ban on pension cold calling.
Post interviewed Stanfield, a solicitor for 17 years, on the forces which are likely to shape the next year of his tenure as MASS chair.
How do you feel about becoming MASS’ new chair at such a tumultuous time?
It’s something I relish. It makes it more intensive than it could have been. MASS will play a huge role in the consultation over whiplash reform, as we always have done. Back in October, if only for a short few hours, it had seemed that the Ministry of Justice had seen sense and put its proposals on the side for a re-think. Regrettably, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
What are your thoughts on plans to raise the small claims limit?
The proposals fail to protect the interests of most claimants. We’re disappointed that government is pressing ahead with this agenda, despite the mounting evidence of negative unintended consequences. The banning of pre-medical offers is certainly welcome, and one both myself and my predecessor have raised. However, raising the small claims limit for all small personal injury claims and capping the claims limit for all whiplash claims plays into the hands of those that would exploit the claimants.
What alternatives to the proposals could there be?
It’s still not too late for the government to take stock and allow the industry to come forward with perhaps a fairer, more proportionate programme to tackle fraudulent claims. Past cross-industry initiatives show that more can be achieved through open dialogue. There have been a number of projects that have been worked on by multiple parties: predictable fees in 2003; the Road Traffic Accident Portal in 2010 and again in 2013; the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2013; MedCo in 2015.
What issue do you have with the fraud numbers quoted in the consultation paper?
No solicitor wants fraud. But the figures that have been provided by the insurance industry are wholly incorrect. The figures have been quoted anywhere from 6% to 11%, depending on the insurer, or the Association of British Insurers. Solicitors contend that the fraud is much lower than that, probably in the region of 1% to 3%. But when all the figures are separated in terms of suspected fraud and actual proven fraud, the figures we are looking at are 0.2% of all motor claims.
To raise the small claims limit and introduce either a ban or a cap on whiplash, for the sake of 0.2%, is effectively using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. MASS will be publishing a consultation reply in due course.
What are your thoughts on the decision to hold the consultation over Christmas?
I don’t think it’s a fair amount of time to address all the issues. The Autumn Statement in 2015 had two or three lines attached to it. Very little information came out in terms of what’s now being proposed in the consultation. We’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the Ministry of Justice and other stakeholders in the last 12 months to clarify some of the issues. But there still remains a lot of work to be done. There are effectively 31 questions that need answering. There are some other questions in terms of the impact assessment as well.
Because it covers the Christmas period, I don’t think it is a reasonable period of time. The fixed recoverable costs consultation got extended by a week. I would be hopeful that the Ministry of Justice sees sense and extends the consultation period. We were hoping for a consultation period of at least eight weeks. It’s effectively seven weeks, with Christmas thrown into the mix.
What are your thoughts on the decision to ban cold calling for pensions, but not for personal injury?
I welcome the banning of cold calls for pensions. We’ve been pressing for the ban of cold calling for a few years now. It’s apparently possible to ban cold calling in some sectors, and not for personal injury. There are unscrupulous companies ripping off people daily. This really must be addressed urgently as part of the fight against fraud.
Do you think the public will still see savings from whiplash reforms given the rise of the Insurance Premium Tax?
Based upon past evidence, absolutely no one should believe that supposed savings from the proposed changes will be passed on to consumers. Whether it is IPT increases or market conditions, there will always be other excuses for higher motor insurance premiums. In fact, the two-point increase will mean it is likely young drivers will see any reductions they had been looking forward to effectively wiped out.
- November 2016 to present – Chair, Motor Accident Solicitors Society
- 2015 to present – Partner, Simpson Millar
- 1995-2015 – Partner and head of motor personal injury department, Colemans-ctts
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