February 10, 2012

This week will surely go down in history as the one where transport secretary Justine Greebling called together a posse of superheroes, the like of which has not been seen since Enid Blyton’s Secret Six, to finally free the British populace from the vicious scourge of whiplash, whose bitter torments they’ve so long endured.

As these lycra-clad justiciers link arms and solemnly pledge to strive ceaselessly against the stinging crack of whiplash, let’s scan the circle and reverence them one by one: Dave Cameron aka Acceptable-Face-of-Class-Privilege-Man, Andrew Lansley aka Taken-Out-and-Shot-Man, Comfy-Shoes-Man Ken Clarke, “Glamour”-Model-Woman Teresa May (for some reason), Vincent “Invincible” Cable, and of course La Greebling soi même.

Their sworn mission: to sort out all this whiplashery once and for all (and all for once). Chief planks in their proposed raft of action include: banning accidents from occurring at low speeds, introducing rigorous medical tents, and chasing lawyers in ambulances (not sure about that last one).

Among the first of those to welcome the new task squad was the ABI’s Nick Sparrow who staked an early claim for the accolade of Bankstone News Mixed Metaphor of the Year as he urged The Six to carry on cracking down on the “lawyers, claims management companies and fraudsters who milk the compensation merry go round through higher premiums.”

“Britain is the whiplash capital of Europe,” Greebling complained, at the launch of her handpicked crack force, “with more than 1,500 claims a day. Quoting a well-thumbed copy of the Mail on Sunday, she decried the existence of “5,399 claims-management companies referring car-crash victims to no-win, no-fee law firms in exchange for cash.” Of these, she noted damningly, 707 have been “shut down by the government for malpractice.” 

Now, as admirers of Ben Disraeli and Sam Clemens will know, there are three kinds of lies: statistics, damned statistics and the kind of old bollocks you can fob off national newspapers and politicians with – a fine example of which Greebling appears to have stumbled upon above.

A fair proportion of the 5399 (presumably regulated) claims management firms identified by Greebling are likely not to have been involved in referring car-crash victims to law firms but in other (doubtless equally sinister) practices such as helping people claim for overcharged bank fees, criminal injuries, employment issues, wrongly sold financial products, housing repairs etc.

According to the MoJ’s website, 707 firms have indeed been shut down (well 717, but let’s not quibble), but whether this was for malpractice, failure to pay the MOJ fees for regulation, simply because they have ceased to trade, or for any one of any number of other reasons is unclear. There also appear to be another six who have had their authorisation suspended and 1586 who have surrendered their authorisation. 

This leaves a total of 3091 authorised and regulated companies undertaking their chosen and closely monitored course of business.  So the 5399 is actually 3109, if you include the 18 the MoJ have “authorised with conditions”. Of these, 2498 have declared an element of personal injury claims handling in their work, while 889 pursue criminal injury compensation, 572 industrial injuries, 245 housing disrepair, and 931 financial products or services. Some obviously undertake several different lines of work. So we have 2498 thoroughly and expensively regulated organisations who – amongst other things – may be referring car crash victims to no-win no-fee law firms in exchange for cash.
 
Let us look at these 2498 “claims management companies” in greater detail. As expected, they include several of the well-known volume handlers of motor claims including Motorplus (ULR Norwich), Ai Claims Solutions, Motor Resolve (Interresolve), AIM Legal Expenses, Albany, Angel Assistance, Drive Assist, Kindertons, and Wisecall. Perhaps more surprisingly they also include well known names like RAC Motoring Services, Automobile Association Insurance Services, Capita Insurance Services, BDML Connect and BISL (who trade as Budget, Bennetts, Dial Direct and Ibuyeco).

Are these the people after whom Greebling is gunning? When you then include blue-chip vehicle leasing organisations like Leasedrive Velo, and fleet management companies such as FMG, WNS, Nobilas and Total Accident Management, things appear to unravel even further.
 
Given insurers’ strong support for Greebling’s anti-PI claims crusade, it is perhaps a little surprising to see listed amongst her supposed claims management foes names such as those of SIMS Claims Services Ltd, recently bought by Swiftcover (hence owned by AXA), Equity Direct Broking Ltd, Hastings Insurance Services Ltd, Bluefin Insurance Services Ltd (AXA again), Carole Nash Insurance Consultants Ltd (Groupama) and Co-operative Legal Services Ltd.
 
What falls through the cracks in all this analysis of course is all those organisations who are exempt of regulation such as trades unions, charities, advice givers, and, yes you guessed it…insurers.

Maybe The Six should do a little more work on their stats instead of relying on that crumpled MoS. Goodness knows what disreputable source the Mail got them from!


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