Small claims limit increase - what does it mean for your claim?
The small claims limit has increased to £1,500.00 - What does this mean for your claim?
By Katie Beddoes, Clinical Negligence & Personal Injury Solicitor
What is a Small Claim?
In 1998 the civil courts in England and Wales, where claims about money and injuries are heard, introduced a new set of rules called the Civil Procedure Rules. These rules created three ‘tracks’ for claims to be dealt with more expeditiously and fairly. These tracks are called the Small Claims Track, the Fast Track and the Multi Track.
Since 1998, a small claim has been anything involving a disagreement between two parties about money amounting to less than £10,000.00 or personal injuries worth less than £1,000.00. There are some other rules around the complexity of a case or the number of witnesses, basically how much of the Court’s time is going to be taken up by the hearing, but the financial value of the claim has always been the main driver behind allocating a claim to the Small Claims Track.
A change is coming…
Over many years the government has sought to curb the number of personal injury claims being brought before the Court, which they say is to ease the pressure on insurance companies and to crack down on fraudulent claims, thus supposedly reducing insurance premiums for the consumer. Whether or not this has been successful is a matter of debate, but in 2018 the Civil Liability Act was passed and the government proposed amendments to “whiplash” claims generally, and to the Small Claims Track more specifically. Thus, on 31st May 2021, the Small Claims Track limit for road traffic accident claims increased from £1,000.00 to £5,000.00.
The government further proposed to increase the Small Claims Track limit for all other types of claim from £1,000.00 to £2,000.00 but, after consulting with various agencies within the claims industry, decided to limit the increase to £1,500.00 instead. This is the first time since 1998 that there has been any change to the Small Claims Track limit, albeit it is not as substantial as we feared it would be.
What does it mean for me?
Solicitors are prohibited from recovering their legal costs from the responsible party in Small Claims. Therefore if an injury is minor, a Claimant wishing to pursue a claim for that injury would have to represent themselves. When the limit was £1,000.00 that was not a problem for most Claimants as the majority of injuries that last for more than a few weeks are likely to be worth more than £1,000.00. In road traffic accident claims, increasing the limit to £5,000.00 has had a huge impact on whether or not injured parties are able to get real access to justice and to bring claims with the assistance of a legal professional. Alongside the increase, the Ministry of Justice introduced the Official Injury Claim portal (the OIC), which is supposedly easier for people to use to represent themselves in Court. As this is a new system that has had less than a year to ‘bed-in’, it is not really possible to know whether it is going to be a success or whether it will need to be changed, but if you don’t want to pay a solicitor out of your own pocket to deal with your claim, you are going to have to use the OIC portal yourself and hope for the best.
For all other claims, including accidents at work or in public places, defective products or accidents in private spaces, the limit is going to increase to £1,500.00 from April 2022. If your injury is serious and lasts more than a month or two, things like complicated fractures, back injuries or head injuries resulting in concussion and some longer term symptoms, then you have nothing to worry about and you will still more than likely be able to get a solicitor to deal with your claim on a no-win no-fee basis, giving you proper access to justice. In many cases, however, something that seems like a serious injury may turn out to be quite minor or not worth an awful lot of money. Things like lacerations that are quite nasty at the time but heal quickly without scarring, food poisoning and sprained ankles that can be quite painful but heal quickly without physiotherapy are all things that could be worth less than £1,500.00.
So what should I do?
There is no real way to gauge whether an injury is likely to be long term or not when it has only just happened. Some things that seem severe on the day they happen sometimes clear up very quickly without any ongoing problems.
We would continue to advise that you should be turning your mind to making a claim at the earliest possible point in time. Doing that allows you to gather essential evidence that your solicitor is likely to need once you decide to pursue a claim. Things like photographs of the scene of your accident, which are particularly important if you have slipped or tripped on something, details of witnesses who saw the accident and are willing to say what happened, again particularly important when the accident happened in a public place where you might not know the people around you who could have valuable information.
It is also vitally important that you seek medical advice about your injury, even if it seems quite minor, because if it is not sufficiently serious to go to the doctor within a short time after the accident, it is probably not serious enough to get you out of the Small Claims Track and to get a solicitor to deal with it for you.
If upon consulting one of our team we consider that your injury is too minor to be dealt with outside of the Small Claims Track, we will of course let you know as soon as we believe that to be the case.
What will happen in future?
The government is quite determined to press ahead with its personal injury reforms, even in the face of backlash from agencies and professionals who have been in this industry for decades and do not feel that it is necessary or appropriate. So there are going to be more changes and we are expecting to see these most in clinical negligence claims and disease claims, which is where the focus is likely to move once the Small Claims Track has been changed.
As usual, we will keep our clients updated with any changes that affect them or their claim as soon as we become aware of them but if you have any questions about your claim and how it will progress, don’t hesitate to contact one of our expert lawyers who will be happy to discuss it with you and answer any questions.