Are potholes giving you an expensive repair bill? Fear not, as you might be able to claim compensation.
Potholes are a nightmare, this we know. You can’t drive five minutes down the road without becoming intimately acquainted with at least one of them.
But the problem is worse than you think. In 2016 there were more than one million potholes recorded on UK roads, which caused over £3 million in damage to cars.
This visualisation shows you just how deep the problem is. And trust us, it’s pretty deep.
So what happens if your car gets damaged after hitting a pothole? And who should front the repair bill?
What counts as a pothole?
You’d think that, given the scale of the problem, there’d be a standard definition on what constitutes a pothole. You’d be mistaken.
Potholes are defined by their depth – otherwise they’re considered to be a ‘carriageway defect’.
The issue is that different councils have different depths by which they define a pothole. Most councils use 40mm as the minimum depth.
For reference, that’s about the same size as two 20p coins stacked one on top of the other.
Some councils also have a minimum width for potholes. Again, this can vary, but those that do tend to use 300mm as the minimum width.
Who’s responsible for pothole damage to my car?
The local authority have a responsibility to maintain all roads in their area. Who this is depends on the type of road:
Motorways and A-roads
England: Highways England
Wales: Traffic Wales
Scotland: Transport Scotland
Northern Ireland: Department for Infrastructure
All other roads
London red routes: Transport for London
England, Wales, Scotland: The local council for the road in question
Northern Ireland: Department for Infrastructure
Any damage that a pothole causes to your car could be their responsibility, and so you may be entitled to compensation.
If, however, your car is damaged due to other debris on the road, you aren’t entitled to compensation. For this, you’d need to make a claim on your car insurance policy.
How do I claim for pothole damage?
If you’re going to claim from the local authority, it’s best to keep records of everything where possible. Here’s what you do:
1. Gather evidence
So long as it’s safe, get as much evidence about the pothole and the damage done to your car as possible.
Measure the depth and width of the pothole and note its position in the road. Take photos of the pothole next to something like a shoe so there’s an easy frame of reference for its size.
You should also note:
the time and day of the incident
witness details, if any
your exact location so you can pinpoint the specific pothole
the damage done to your car
If the incident happened on a motorway, you should not try to visit or take photos of the pothole. Not only is it dangerous, it’s illegal.
2. Report the pothole
Your duty as a good citizen is to report the pothole, regardless of whether you’ll end up claiming for the damage. Not only does this help speed up repairs of the pothole, there’ll be a definite record of it for if you decide to claim.
Some councils use apps like FixMyStreet to monitor potholes. Others prefer you to report the pothole directly to them. It’s best to check with them beforehand.
3. Repair your car
Before you settle on a garage, it’ll help if you get several quotes for repair. If you’re not paying over the odds for fixing your car, you’re more likely to get that money back.
Keep records of any quotes and receipts you get for the repairs. These’ll help support your claim.
4. Make your case
If you’ve decided to make a claim, get in touch with the same local authority that you reported the pothole to.
In your letter or email, you should include:
a full description of the incident
the location and time/date
details of any witnesses
any photographs or sketches of the scene
photographs of the damage to the car
copies of all receipts used in the repair work
Your rights to compensation have limits, however. Making a successful claim is only likely if the local authority failed in its duty to maintain the road.
This is in line with Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980.
5. Next steps
One of three things will happen:
1. The council accepts your claim and covers all of your repair expenses.
2. The council offer a partial settlement.
3. The council rejects the claim entirely.
If they offer a partial settlement, it’s worth weighing up your options. Although it’s lower than the amount you’re demanding, it could be more expensive and time-consuming to continue the case.
Take the time to consider their offer before you go any further.
If you feel that the council has rejected your claim unfairly, you could take the case to a small claims court. This’ll require a solicitor and is likely to add to your expenses in legal fees.
If the claim is rejected and the repair bill is large, you could claim on a comprehensive car insurance policy.
This will be deemed to be an ‘at-fault’ claim. So, as well as paying an excess, you could lose some of your no-claims bonus, and risk higher premiums in future.