David Cameron pledges action to cut car whiplash claims
- 15 February 2012
- From the section UK Politics
David Cameron has said he will work with car insurers to reduce claims for whiplash and cut the cost of premiums.
The prime minister said he wanted to stop "trivial claims" as he held talks at Downing Street with insurance, consumer and business groups.
Number 10 said insurers had promised to pass any savings on to consumers in return for government action.
Insurers say whiplash claims cost their industry £2bn a year and add £90 to the average annual bill.
Number 10 said Britain had become "the whiplash capital of Europe", with 1,500 claims a day for even the most minor accidents.
The meeting followed a recommendation last month by the Commons Transport Select Committee that the government should bring forward primary legislation to require objective evidence - both of a whiplash injury and of it having a significant effect on the claimant's life - before compensation is paid.
The MPs said there had been a 70% rise in motor insurance injury claims in the past six years - despite a 23% drop in the number of casualties actually caused by road accidents - and whiplash accounted for 70% of the total.
That amounted to roughly 554,000 whiplash claims in 2010-11.
Mr Cameron told representatives at the meeting there was "no silver bullet" to tackle soaring premiums.
"Government has got to help sort out the legal issues, some steps have been taken by insurance companies already in terms of referral fees, [and] there's quite a lot of space for individual action - personal responsibility, not making false claims - so I think there's a whole set of issues and if we work together we can actually deliver," he said.
He said the government was "determined to tackle this damaging compensation culture which has been pushing up premiums" and stop "trivial claims".
The government has already pledged to ban referral fees in which personal injury details may be exchanged between insurance companies, lawyers and claims management firms who charge each other for passing them on.
It also says it will reduce the £1,200 fee that lawyers can earn from small-value personal injury claims - and following the meeting, insurers promised to pass any savings from this on to customers.
Insurers are calling for the adoption of measures similar to those already in place in Germany where there is a 10km/h (6.25mph) threshold for whiplash claims.
Drivers in Germany also have to obtain two medical opinions to diagnose the injury.
UK firms are pressing for the creation of a court-appointed pool of impartial experts to assess the veracity of claims.
Downing Street said the government would work with the industry to examine those options in the coming months.
Ministers are also considering the wider use of in-car monitoring of young drivers - those who face the highest premiums - via "smartbox" technology.
'Exaggerated or fraudulent'
Asked if motorists were lying about being injured, Transport Secretary Justine Greening told the BBC: "I think too often they're encouraged to make a claim for compensation for some kind of health issue.
"I think there are many people who are probably watching this who had a minor, minor accident and might have nudged the person in front of them in a car and the next thing they know that person is somehow claiming for some sort of whiplash injury."
The Association of British Insurers welcomed the prime minister's intervention, and director general Nick Starling said his industry was "swamped with exaggerated or even fraudulent claims".
"There's no medical diagnosis for whiplash as an injury, it's self-reported," he told the BBC.
"If an insurance company wants to challenge a whiplash claim it has to effectively say someone is lying to them and we think that needs to be reformed."
After the meeting, the association's director-general Otto Thoresen said the talks had been "very positive" and the industry hoped to make progress "as quickly as possible".
But The Law Society, which represents more than 125,000 solicitors in England and Wales, accused Mr Cameron of failing to engage with it on the issue.
Chief executive Desmond Hudson said: "We wrote to the prime minister over a month ago, but it is disappointing that our offer to work with him and his government in addressing public concerns over whiplash claims has been ignored.
"Government should not be limiting itself to tea and cakes with one partisan set of stakeholders - the insurers."
Shadow transport minister John Woodcock said the government must bring forward concrete proposals to tackle spiralling insurance costs, including supporting Labour's call to limit whiplash claims.
The meeting at Number 10 was attended by motor insurers including Royal Bank of Scotland, Admiral , Axa, Aviva, and Zurich Financial Services.