GMB calls on government to abandon plans to increase small claims limit in personal injury claims

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The government’s proposal to increase the small claims limit in personal injury claims is yet another barrier to accessing justice.

Small claims are low value claims brought in the county court where the winning party cannot generally recover their legal costs from the other side. As a result, those bringing small claims often do not seek legal advice from solicitors or barristers as the cost of this is generally greater than the value of the claim.

Currently, the small claims limit in personal injury claims is £1k. Someone who is injured at work, therefore, and whose injury is valued at less than £1k will not generally seek legal advice or bother trying to bring a claim, unless they are supported by, for example, a trade union.

The government is proposing to make the situation much worse, however, by increasing the small claims limit in personal injury claims from £1k to £2k. (It’s worse for road traffic accident related whiplash claims where the government is proposing to increase the small claims limit to £5k). This means that, in the future, if a winning claimant’s injury is worth anything up to £2k, then they will not generally be able to recover their legal costs from the losing party.

The potential imbalance between the two sides is stark. On the one hand, you may have a low paid worker on a zero hours contract, who is injured at work due to no fault of their own but who cannot afford legal advice or representation. 

On the other hand you may have an employer, who has insurance and easy access to legal advice who can wait and see just how far they can get away with poor health and safety practices.

The government has tried to justify its proposals by referring to inflation and insurance fraud. However, their arguments are unconvincing and it is likely to be meritorious claims that are instead disadvantaged by the proposals.

GMB recently supported a member in recovering just over £1k in a claim for personal injury following an accident at work. Here, the member was struck by a pallet that had been left in an unsafe location in a warehouse, suffering an injury to his forehead.

James Cooper of UnionLine solicitors Pattinson & Brewer Solicitors who acted for the member said, “Dealing with minor injuries can be complicated as the Defendant’s legal representatives are keen to ensure that the most minor amount of compensation is offered. However, an injury is an injury. The government’s proposals have been ill thought out and are only in the interests of large insurance corporations and not working people.”

Carole Vallelly, Regional Organiser GMB Southern Region, said, “This member suffered an injury in the workplace and, to put it simply, nothing should restrict their right to seek redress. I call on the government to abandon its proposals to increase the small claims limit in personal injury cases.”

The government is proposing to increase the small claims limit in 2020. Its timing is cynical, to say the least. Only last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Employment Tribunal Fees Order which required claimants to pay fees of up to £1200 in order to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal. The Supreme Court’s judgment attacked the barrier to accessing justice that the fees represented. For the government to now nonetheless press ahead with an increase in the small claims limit shows a similar and continued disregard of the rights of ordinary working people to access justice.

Avril Chambers, Senior Organiser, GMB Southern Region commented saying, “The government’s proposal is yet another barrier to accessing justice and shows, yet again, the importance of GMB membership.”

If you have suffered an injury at work, please contact your local GMB representative without delay.

Enquiries: Carole Vallelly, Regional Organiser, GMB Southern Region 07912181476 or email: