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Govt crackdown on fake whiplash claims

a dent in the side of a carThe government has announced a crackdown on whiplash cheats in a bid to cut spiralling car insurance bills.

According to industry estimates, the cost of dealing with personal injury claims now adds £90 a year to the typical annual motor insurance premium.

Much of the blame for this has been attached to whiplash cases, many of which are thought to be fraudulent or exaggerated.

Now the government says it wants to make it more difficult for fake claims to succeed.

Licensing plans

The Ministry of Justice has announced a consultation on measures such as the creation of new medical panels, which it is hoped will give more accurate diagnosis, and rule changes designed to make it easier for insurers to challenge bogus claims.

The government plans to introduce a system of licensing for doctors, so that only those with the right accreditation will be allowed to act as examiners for insurance purposes.

And there are proposals to increase the ceiling at the small claims court for personal injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000.

This would mean that far more cases could be heard in this lower court, reducing the overall cost of claims.

No more easy paydays

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: "For too long honest drivers have been bearing the price of a system that has been open to abuse and it is time for that to change.

"We are proposing action to support effective whiplash diagnosis by medical experts and to simplify procedures which will help bring speculative or fraudulent claims before a judge, so genuine claims can still be settled but fraudsters are left in no doubt there will be no more easy paydays."

Figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) show that in 2011, more than 500,000 whiplash-related insurance claims were reported.

Almost 10 per cent of these were found to be fraudulent.

Safer roads

The cost of dealing with personal injury claims has risen over recent years despite an overall decline in the number of road accidents.

James Dalton of the ABI said: "We are pleased that the government recognises that tough action is needed to protect honest motorists from the UK's whiplash epidemic.

"For too long, whiplash has been seen as the 'fraud of choice'. Our roads are safer, yet every day over 1,500 whiplash claims are made."

'Weaker necks'

Simon Douglas at AA Insurance said: "You would think that British motorists have weaker necks than any other European nation.

"While it is difficult to diagnose whiplash injury as it doesn't show up on x-rays or scans, this also makes it difficult and costly for defending insurance companies to disprove such claims and counter suspected fraud.

"As a result, it has become increasingly okay to claim £2,000 or £3,000 for an injury even if there is none, or where a couple of painkillers would have done the trick."

However, critics of the proposals say that the changes could see many genuine accident victims denied justice and compensation.

Justice denied?

Craig Budsworth from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society said that as it was impossible for no-win, no-fee solicitors to recover costs from the small-claims court, more accident victims would have to fund their own legal action.

Budsworth added: "Raising the small claims limit has serious implications that go far beyond just whiplash fraud.

"It will exclude many genuine claimants from receiving the legal support and the compensation they deserve after an accident and dangerous drivers will not be held to account."

The government's consultation runs until March 2013, with legislation expected to be drawn up later in the year.

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris

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