Friday, 30 December 2011

Money down the drain awards 2011

The Treasury Solicitor's office has led the pack this year for wasting public funds sending communications by every conceivable medium but there's a late entry from the Independent Safeguarding Authority, or ISA.

Last Friday we had by e-mail copy of an application to an employment tribunal for an order extending time for compliance (that's another story) with a non-party disclosure order. Happy with that. Hats off to Exeter ET incidentally for the speed and efficiency of dealing with it - administratively and judicially.

We also had the letter and enclosures from the ISA by fax. Well, OK, it was urgent I suppose.

This morning my practice manager has been to the sorting office to collect a recorded delivery Signed for secure envelope that couldn't be delivered whilst we were closed over Christmas. I open it to find the same pages that I've already had by e-mail and fax - sent to me after the event.

Both sides knew it was all done and dusted because the ET e-mailed us an order (and as far as I can see, didn't waste time and money posting a copy).

As I've said before it's the tip of an iceberg. As a nation we'd probably save significant time and money if someone would encourage some departures from "the way we've always done it".

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A real hustle

If you've ever watched The Real Hustle you've probably been amazed at some of the things that people can get away with if they have the confidence to try. Who dares wins?

The latest scam from liability insurers is a bold attack on the fixed costs schemes that presently apply to a number of categories of personal injury claims, starting with low-value road traffic - or “Portal” - claims.

This comes on the back of the announcement of a ban on referral fees for which of course insurers quickly voiced support, hoping to distract attention from the extent of their sly profits that were suddenly exposed to the daylight.

Now they seek to turn it all to their advantage by arguing that since some, not all, claimants’ solicitors will no longer be paying referral fees to acquire the business, the fixed costs should be reduced.

Which of course will produce a saving for insurers – on ALL claims, not just those that might have been bought by payment of a referral fee.

That fact demonstrates where the logic of the present argument crumbles. It won’t just be lawyers who previously paid for claims continuing to run them in the future. There will be all the others, like me, who never did and whose overheads don’t change as a result of the ban.

Those overheads still include other forms of marketing – areas in which many firms who previously purchased from claims management companies will find themselves spending similar amounts in the future as they look for alternative business leads.

So, the insurers’ point is a duff one regardless of how the original fixed-fee deal was conceived and structured.

Perhaps that’s why we are hearing and reading the contention that the existing scheme factored in an allowance for referral fees. The MOJ will quickly swallow it where there is no resource or political will to challenge the insurance industry.

Representatives of respectable and fair players such as APIL are quite clear in their account that referral fees formed no part of the Portal fees deal of which they were one of the architects, along with insurers. Why ever should it have done?

The costs were calculated having regard to the amount of time required to run the claims and the expense of it.

That has proved inadequate, many will say, because of the antics of insurers looking to exploit loopholes and push the bounds as they so often do. No wonder they say the system works well – pity nobody has seen them reduce levels of premia as a result.

One comes to expect all that but this latest assault is a serious threat to justice and the MOJ needs to wake up to it. Bear in mind that the insurance industry wants to extend these lower cost claims environments to higher value and more types of injury claim.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Claims theft

Yesterday I received nineteen identical copies of an e-mail from a claims management company.

The cheerful message - entirely out of the blue - vaunted my free listing on the website.

Not just that – I may add further details, update and improve my profile and it will still not cost me anything!  I can even send them a description of my firm and its specialities, which they will upload.

The message closes with “if you have any questions or are looking for personal claim (sic) referrals, please also feel free to get in touch”

Oh, and the customary “Kind regards” from “The Team” none of whom I know from Adam.

Miserable bastard aren’t I? A bit of free advertising and that’s my attitude to it.  Bah humbug.

So, how many more of you have had this sort of gift and stopped to think why such generosity? 

Well it’s simple and really quite annoying when you think about it.

If you spend enough time and effort, enhanced with some real attempts at search engine optimisation, you will get your firm’s name up the listings.  The more focussed the search, the more likely that the majority or all of your listings appear at the top of the Google list.

So your free listing on this site will generate a hit and maybe the person who is looking for a personal injury lawyer will follow the link to this site.  Maybe they will get in touch with details of their claim.

Where will the business go then?  Remember, you have decided that you will just enjoy the free publicity and not pay referral fees.

If you have not thought this through before, think about it now and just consider how many “free listings” you have.  Take active steps to get them removed and write to the Ministry of Justice Claims Management Unit at


Tuesday, 29 November 2011


It is a slow day in a little Greek Village . The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the village, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the taverna.

The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him "services" on credit.

The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note.

The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole village is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the bailout package works.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Waffling bankers - again!

Two significant points of interest arose in the course of a property purchase during the last few days - one topical and the other - well, incredible.

Client buying residential property with the assistance of a mortgage from High Street Bank represented in this particular transaction by associated firm because we don’t deal with residential property.

Father and his son are occupiers of the property, but not parties to any of the transactions.  Bank, very reasonably, requires signed forms of disclaimer of equitable interests.

There’s some confusion about whether or not the two occupiers are required to seek independent advice but rather than debate the point where time is pressing, the two head off to another law firm where they are told “we can’t help, because you are not our clients”.

An approach to another law firm, another established conveyancing practice, elicits a “we would like to help but we are sorry we can’t”.

They take a little more trouble to explain that they don’t get many requests for this type of exercise now and in view of the amount of time required to comply with regulatory and other requirements, have decided as a matter of policy not to do it.  It isn’t cost-effective or worthwhile from a risk perspective. 

I find that entirely understandable.  These are the sorts of reasons why we choose not to deal with any residential conveyancing.

These were two firms that have established practices in that field, choosing not to undertake the particular task for similar reasons.  This is for privately paying clients who, within reason, were not in a position to haggle - they just wanted the job done.

Trite point but this doesn’t augur well for the survival of poorly paid legal activities in various guises.

Not much to say about the bank in all that?  Well, don’t despair because the bank ultimately stole the show.  How?  Breathtakingly!

My associate did all the necessary and submitted the report on title to the bank and then made arrangements for completion with the seller’s London lawyers, subject to arrival of funds.

Whilst waiting for the mortgage monies to arrive, he then took a call from the purchasing client to report that she had the mortgage proceeds of more than £¼m in her personal bank account, courtesy of the lending bank.

The bank’s explanation?  That’s the procedure - the monies go to the customer who then passes them on to the solicitor.

The solicitor of course then completes the transaction, obtains the documents of title and is able to complete the bank’s security which protects its investment...

We only act for the good guys, of course, but in other circumstances that bank might have been lucky that the telephone call didn’t come from a luxury hotel or cruise ship in the Caribbean. 

It’s good to see that things have tightened up during the last three years.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Life's little dramas...

400 people set to lose their jobs as Aviva announces closure of its offices in Bristol, according to BBC News West this evening.

I suppose at some stage they'll attribute this to "the rising cost of claims" and blame accident victims' solicitors above all others?

We can be sure it won't be anything to do with shareholders' returns, executives' remuneration, the end of cheap off-shore labour, or the loss of referral fee income streams.

The announcement reportedly comes "at the conclusion of a joint-venture with RBS". Another role model if ever there was. I do hope they're still managing to pay their former CEO's pension of £938 per day.

And they wonder (they say) what all those people were whining about outside St Pauls Cathedral.

Just one of "life's little dramas" ?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bottom of the class

Royal Mail Group must be short of money.  This is a cracker.

Last Thursday in our post we had one of those invitations from RMG to attend the sorting office to collect - and pay for - an item whose sender had not paid the postage.

My practice manager called in there first thing Friday armed with £1.36, being the unpaid postage plus £1 “handling fee”. She was given a standard envelope (with one page of A4 inside) sent to us by a firm of solicitors in Surrey.

The envelope is franked with 39p (sic) postage.  I don’t know why it is three pence more than it should have been, but it's a nice adornment to the story.

So, why are we being charged £1.36 - and having to collect the letter?

The answer is that it is franked on the back.

That is somehow invalid and entitles RMG to receive a total, from us and the original sender, of £1.75 not to deliver a one-page of A4. 

Another real bonus is that according to the detail franked on its backside, this envelope left Woking on 4 October, thus taking sixteen days to reach Somerset.

What “class” is that?

The key point (which I shall urge on those who sent us this communication) is that it makes no sense to use and perpetuate the existence of this abysmal service rather than using e-mail - or fax if you must.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Motto for insurers..

The Court of Appeal has just dealt another blow to accident victims and those who help them fight insurers for the compensation they deserve.

One of the Court’s decisions in the case of Motto v Trafigura is that what we term “costs of funding” should not be recoverable from paying parties – normally defendants' insurers.

These costs relate to setting up a conditional fee agreement (“CFA”), arguably all the related work that is required once such an agreement is in place and, most surprisingly, the time spent dealing with after the event ("ATE") insurers whose policy against adverse costs complements the CFA.  In contrast, the policy premium paid to insurers is recoverable.

The decision appears to settle an issue that has been undecided for a number of years now.  Up and down the country and even within the Senior Courts Costs Office in London judges responsible for assessing claims for costs between parties have been at liberty to take conflicting views - and have done so.

The basic principle that recoverable costs within litigation do not include any time your solicitor spends helping them workout how it will be funded is centuries old.

After what proved to be the hideously complicated CFA Regulations arrived in 2000, many costs judges were sympathetic to the argument that “times have changed” and the requirements of Access to Justice demanded that this ancillary work be done by the solicitor.  Sometimes it runs into hundreds or thousands of pounds in the course of a case.

And why should that not be recovered from the person legally responsible for the injury?  Without their error or omission, none of it would be necessary.

But no – the Court of Appeal has wound everybody’s clock back a few hundred years and decided that this significant cost burden shall not be met by the losing party, almost certainly the one who caused all the litigation to happen.

Time will demonstrate whether this is another expense that claimant lawyers absorb as part of winning work or whether – as the Appeal Court seems to suggest – it is factored into overheads and passed on by an increase in the hourly rates chargeable across the board.

One can only hope that district judges up and down the land will be more receptive and encouraged by the powers to be in London to accept that hourly rates should be higher than they are.  The present torpor in the Lord Chancellor’s Department that sees us waiting until nearly Christmas for the guideline rates that are to be applied throughout 2011(sic) has to be cured.

I think it’s unlikely to happen and in fact we have here yet another bunch of flowers for the insurance industry.  Slightly different market perhaps, but it’s hard to ignore the point that the ATE premium in this case was allowed in full.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Waffling bankers

It’s grim on the High Street too.

In May this year, I approached bankers to set-up a trustee account.  We had secured a large sum of money for a client and created a special needs trust to legitimately preserve his means-tested benefits.

My co-trustee and I told the bank what we wanted and they gave us a form.  We filled it in and we made an appointment as required to present the form and for my co-trustee to deliver his identification documents.

The manager could do no more than to explain that it was the wrong form and how many times she was going to kick her colleague’s backside.

To cut a long story short, we were given the correct form which was then completed and delivered.  My assistant telephoned and visited the branch many times in the coming weeks to find out when we would receive confirmation of the new account, cheque book etc.

After various reassurances that it was being chased up, we have been told that the forms cannot be located.  They had been lost somewhere on the way to or from the processing department, wherever that is.

The branch explains that they did not photocopy the original form before despatch because they do not have the resources. 


The former chief executive’s daily pension of nearly £2,000 would buy at least half a dozen adequate photocopiers.

Subsequently I have approached a different bank to see what they can do.  They are being helpful.

But the answer to my question who is best able to deal at local level is that it depends on what day we want to go and see them.

As I have explained, the greater value is in having somebody who knows what they are doing, even if they are only available one day a week.  I will arrange everything else accordingly.

It’s of no value to me at all to pick my day and then have the cleaner deal with it because nobody else is available.

Not sure yet whether that’s what’s bound to happen anyway...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Technology and destruction court

Evidence of yet further advances in the use of technology by HM Courts and Tribunal Service now emerges.

One of my local courts has removed and/or destroyed its fax machine.  We now have notepaper (because the court still insists on using the post for everything) that has a line through the space where the fax number used to appear.

It’s not all bad because we are exhorted to use e-mail, instead of the fax but it seems the court isn’t quite so committed to the concept as to display the e-mail address on its notepaper.

But we know it, and we use it, because we are all for it. Post is unnecessarily slow and environmentally unfriendly.

So, we send an e-mail and we get an automated response: -

“Thank you for your e-mail.  This e-mail box is accessed daily.  In accordance with HMCS [sic] policy, your e-mail will be dealt with or responded to within ten working days following the date of receipt.”

“Daily?!”  Wow - did somebody find a posse of staff who had nothing to do, suddenly providing the resource to check the e-mail as often as once a day?

“Within ten working days.”  That’s some sort of standard, is it?  Objectively, I suppose that the answer to that question is “yes”.  Let’s be more specific and say, yes, it is a standard but a poor one.

I have never understood - and I have heard and read it for donkeys’ years now - why court offices in particular are so often able to work consistently two or three weeks behind the pace.  If one can do that consistently then, subject to one big drive to clear whatever backlog exists, one can consistently work up-to-date.

It’s the philosophy that we just don’t aim to achieve things in any lesser timescale.  It’s ingrained.

I suppose this is better than the South Devon court which has not only pulled the plug on the fax machine but insists that one may only use the e-mail for the most life-threatening matters.  Why is this?

The simple answer is that if you block off the fax and ignore the e-mail, communications demanding attention don’t reach you as soon as they otherwise would, so you don’t have to deal with them as soon as you otherwise would. 

They may by then have become more (objectively) urgent and have generated a great deal more anxiety and other (subjective) pressures.

Or they may just have gone away – so you don’t have to deal with them at all.

Does Haringey have a county court?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Tax craven

On a personal level it’s hard to complain about the recent notification from HM Revenue & Customs.

Headed “We are writing to apologize for the late issue of your self-assessment statement”, it told me that I now have until the end of September to pay any tax due and that I won’t be charged interest as long as I meet that deadline.

Quite generous, I have to say where the essence of “self-assessment” is that I know - or to be more precise my accountant knows - how much tax is payable and that, as in every year, it is due by 31 July.  Furthermore, we all know we get charged interest if the payment is late.

But no - the Revenue say that we don’t (or rather didn’t) have to pay by the end of July - that we can have until the end of September - interest free.

Why this generosity?  Well, HMRC are feeling guilty, explaining that “because we had to send out more statements than we expected this year, we were unable to issue your statement at the usual time”.

I hope someone, somewhere - who has the ability to put things straight - understands that this is a euphemism for “because we are so under-resourced and/or incompetent the nation will have to continue paying interest on a sum equivalent to however much tax is paid two months late, and not recover any of it from  taxpayers who have had the benefit of the money for an extra two months”.

How can we ever expect to climb out of our pit of debt?  

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The "expense" of counsel..

I’m reading - not for the first time - reported disapproval from the judiciary about the instruction of counsel in particular circumstances.

It doesn’t really matter from the point of view of what I have to say but this particular article arises from an old chestnut of infant settlement hearings.

In passing, there is a separate observation about that.  The court rules very properly require additional work from lawyers to safeguard the interests of children even in “small claims”.

I should be interested to know how many school kids, even in this day and age, think that £1,000 (or just under) isn’t a lot of money.  Nevertheless, the expectation of the courts seems to be that the additional work will be done for virtually nothing.

In this and other situations, judges complain about the “unnecessary use of counsel” and the like.  What in heaven’s name is the problem?

By and large, junior counsel attend many relatively straightforward hearings unaccompanied by solicitors, often travelling significant distance, and doing it all at unbelievably modest cost.  So many times it works out cheaper than sending any less qualified person from the office, or from another firm as an agent.

Encouraged by defendants’ representatives who, in the case of liability insurers, will generally run even the most tenuous arguments to try and have costs disallowed, our courts seem blinded by the reference to ‘counsel’.

So often they seem to overlook the obvious point that there has to be some expense and they should ask the obvious question - how much would that expense have been in any event?

So often the answer will be - a lot more than it was to “use counsel”.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Insurance matters... the title of a visually attractive “free professional indemnity insurance guide from The Law Society” that reached me today, 2 September 2011.

The trigger for this fifteen-page feature is obviously the approaching single renewal date as it is known for solicitors’ professional indemnity insurance cover - 1 October 2011.

I flicked through to see typical warnings from brokers about, amongst other things, “timely proposal forms”.  One article I glanced through was a little thin on guidance but clear enough that sending a form in within four weeks of the renewal date (i.e. later than, 2 September) wouldn’t be good enough.

There might be lots of good stuff in this publication which I shall want to read, notwithstanding that I sent off my proposals to brokers last month.  To the extent, though, that this is trying to get the message across to solicitors to crack on with it well ahead of 1 October, why does it land on the mat as late as 2 September?

Further scrutiny reveals only that this is “Issue No 6, August 2011”.  The well-wishing forward from the Chief Executive, Desmond Hudson, informs that “a dedicated PII Helpline will be open from 23 August 2011”.

So what is the explanation?  Has it only just been printed - or was it just sitting around in a post room?  My copy didn’t look as if it had been places on the way.  

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Army answerphone..

Thank you for calling the British Army. We're sorry, but all our units are out at the moment, or are otherwise engaged. Please leave a message with your country, name of organisation, the region, the specific crisis and a number at which we can call you. 

As soon as we have sorted out Afghanistan, Libya, Croydon, Iraq, marching up and down bits of tarmac in London and compulsory health and safety at work training, we will return your call. 

Please speak after the tone or, if you require more options, listen to the following numbers:

If your crisis is small and close to the sea, press 1 for the Royal Marines.

If your problem is distant, with a tropical climate, good hotels and can be solved by one or two low-risk bombing runs, please press 2 for the Royal Air Force. (Please note that this service is not available after 16.30 or at weekends)

If you have an issue which can be resolved by a warship, some bunting, flags, a damn good cocktail party and a first class marching band, please write, well in advance, to the First Sea Lord, The Royal Navy, Whitehall, London SW1

Friday, 26 August 2011

BTE angels

I confess I have never been the biggest fan of BTE ('before the event') insurance, probably because of the massive risks and lost time that it generated within the framework of the 2000 Conditional Fee Agreement Regulations.

It also has a lot to do with having had to deal too many times with the likes of DAS Legal Expenses.  It was good to see them being brought to heel in the High Court at the end of March this year.

It is not all bad by any means.  I can think of two good experiences with Churchill Insurance, for example. 

By “good experience” I mean that the client’s legal expenses insurer is prepared to appoint us at the outset of the case when the client needs us and to agree a sensible hourly rate for our services - rather than tell us to get lost because we are not on their panel of pet lawyers.

Well – here’s another good experience...

I have a client, a straightforward and pleasant bloke, who is highly-skilled as a lathe operator.  He was involved in a serious car accident as a result of which he had extended sickness absence.  There was no clear-cut case in negligence against any other road users involved.

After a year or more of absence his employer suddenly terminated his employment, without any warning.  In short, he had a reasonably good case for compensation for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, probably worth high four figures, possibly low five.

He came to me as an existing client and asked if I would look at it on a contingency basis.  In the course of doing the proper checks we identified that he had a policy of BTE insurance.

I got in touch with his insurers and gave them a summary of the case.  I told the client I didn’t know whether they would be prepared to instruct us, warning him that some policy providers take a very narrow view of freedom to choose your lawyer.

Insurers came back to us and said they would indemnify from that point.  They would be prepared to pay up to 95% of our normal hourly rate if on examination of a claim for costs the work justified it.  They set a realistic provision as a maximum for fees.  They routinely required opinion from counsel (which was supportive) and paid for it.

The claim is now stayed and will probably be struck out.  The respondent is in administration and it seems that the best possible dividend for unsecured creditors, including my client, would be around 7%.  That means that a really good result might yield 20% of the costs reserve that insurers were prepared to allocate.

I add for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t recognize the point that this was an Employment Tribunal claim.  The relevance of that is that costs awards are few and far between (says he, who secured two the year before last and is halfway, hopefully, to another...)

Insurers here perfectly reasonably cut the cord.  We were asked to send in a schedule of our costs, which we did.

Within a short space of time, I received a letter from their solicitors who audit all such claims.  They asked for a complete copy of our file which we were able to send electronically by a series of e-mails.

That firm of solicitors looked at the matter on the same day and wrote to us with a detailed analysis of the claim.  For the most part it was to tell us that they agreed that the work was reasonable, justified the hourly rate, etc.

Their only quibble arose from some slight debate over the date on which cover had been terminated but given their attitude as a whole we were prepared to accept a proposed payment of around 85%. 

I have had better endings for sure, and there is nothing to replace the satisfaction of a good win and a happy client, but It has to be said that this wasn’t a bad safety net.

At no point can I recall any unpleasantness or awkwardness in dealing with primarily the insurer or, very briefly, their auditing solicitors.  On the contrary, it has been a positive experience that prompts me as a sometime BTE sceptic to post this blog.

The players involved?

Step forward - NatWest Legal Expenses and Keelys LLP.

Take a bow, you guys. DAS and others, take note.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ministry of Slow

I just read a bulletin from one of my professional associations that tells me there is to be “no announcement on new guideline hourly rates for 2011 until the end of September or early October”.

So, what does that mean?

For the normal human beings amongst us, this is a reference to the arcane world of solicitors’ costs - but don’t switch off immediately because this point is quite amusing...

Since Lord Wolfe’s Civil Justice Review in 1998, we have had a process called summary assessment by which costs are quantified and ordered to be paid, by one party to the other, at the end of the majority of hearings lasting up to one day.  It’s often a bit rough and ready, but it works.

Solicitors legitimately charge different hourly rates but where costs between the parties are concerned the tendency is to use what is colloquially described as “the going rate”. To achieve consistency, we have what are known as Guideline Rates issued from London with figures to be applied in various regions all over the country.

In theory, these take effect from 1 January 2011.

Yes, you read the opening correctly.  It’s likely to be October 2011 before the MOJ manages to publish its guidelines.  Consequently, we shall have used the 2010 guidelines for at least ten months of this year

Guys, just bin it will you?  Perhaps if you start now there is an outside chance that you can come up with some (realistic) figures to apply with effect from 1 January 2012 – perhaps...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Portal of horrors

I see repeated mention of proposals by liability insurers to extend the scope of the Portal, and reduce the fees too. Will the MOJ fall for this one I wonder?

Fellow personal injury claimant lawyers know what I am talking about.  For those who don’t, this is a web-based system of exchanging information between claimants and insurers, currently restricted to road traffic accident claims with a value of less than £10,000.

The idea was sponsored by liability insurers with the insistence that the technology would cut costs and speed claims to everybody’s benefit.  The big plus (?) for claimants’ lawyers was that admittedly low fixed costs would be payable by instalments rather than at the end of the case.

It might have worked in theory, though many of us knew full well what would happen.

The fact is it has been a nightmare.  The launch was delayed because of technical problems.  When it is not beset by functional issues, it doesn’t work because insurers play their usual tricks.

Breaking out of this system is possible but it’s not clearly mapped and the potential costs, or penalties, of doing so are disproportionate.  So you are virtually locked in.

I and others say the proposal to extend it to much higher value road traffic claims and other types of claims is disastrous news.  If you want to understand why, let me tell you at first-hand a true story about how the portal works. It goes on a bit – but that’s the nature of this beast...

This wicked tale features a very large insurer, a chap called ‘Lakshami’, numerous unidentified chums of the same name and a Manchester firm of solicitors beloved of this insurer for attacking and delaying claims for costs by (successful) injured claimants’ solicitors.

It also features the claimant, our victim here, who in case you don’t pick it up as the story unfolds happens to be my employee.  In true Star Wars tradition, we’ll feature the earlier part of the saga in a little article about claims capture during the coming days.

This is how the claim runs after we receive instructions from my slightly pranged employee one day at the beginning of August last year: -

5 August 2010 - Detailed claim uploaded to the Portal.  Insurers have 15 days to respond.

19 August 2010 - We become aware that these insurers, as others, are exploiting a loophole that they have found relying on what is referred to as an “Article 75 Decision” to allege that they have up to 29 days to deal with (i.e. delay) a claim.

23 August 2010 - Insurers admit liability and the Portal shows on this date that the claim is awaiting payment. 

18 November 2010 - Medical report and prognosis received from claimant’s doctor and uploaded within what is known as Stage 2 of the Portal process.  Insurers have 15 days to respond.

30 November 2010 - On the fourteenth day, enter Lakshami, asking for payslips for the three months prior to the accident.  We provide and wait a little longer...

9 December 2010 - Insurers make a partial offer through the Portal.  In the course of doing so they ask for payslips on headed paper.  Strange, since the payslips originally provided were....on headed paper.

The same day, we telephone and speak to someone called “John”.  He looks at the file and advises that they have received all the information they require and he cannot understand why the request for payslips has been made. Well done, John.

17 December 2010 - Lakshami telephones.  He has received the payslips and wants to check who is the claimant’s employer.  We confirm that it is us – as, er, shown on the payslip!  The next request - they want our contact details?! 

Same day (assistant frustrated at this point, understandably)  I telephoned, listened to music for the best part of five minutes and eventually spoke to an operator whose incomprehensible name began with “G”.  He couldn’t help by putting me through to the Lakshami who had just telephoned because......there were too many people called Lakshami.

23 December 2010 - We speak to Lakshami (the right one, allegedly) again and ask to know the present position.  He says that he needs the employer’s address.  We ask him why that is necessary but he can’t tell us.  He will ask his case manager and telephone us.. 

30 December 2010 - Lakshami calls in my assistant’s absence and leaves a message with a secretary.  He wants to know how long she was off work and what she is claiming for loss of earnings...

4 January 2011 - My assistant returns the call to Lakshami.  She points out to Lakshami that all the information relating to loss of earnings was included in the schedule of loss that was filed at the beginning of the Stage 2 process [18 November].  Apart from that, they must know how much she is claiming the course of their own partial offer they had quoted the amount claimed and asked for payslips. 

26 January 2011 - After exchanges of further offers on both sides, we chase one of Lakshami’s colleagues about our latest offer.  The operator tells us that they have not received the fax but they had received an invoice from us on 20 January. News to us. We ask them what the invoice was for and the operator starts to read the fax that we had sent on 18 January......we observe that this was the letter we were chasing.

Same call - we are then informed that... they need documentary evidence to support the loss of earnings claim!!  Eventually, we get through to Lakshami - the same one who has dealt with it before.  He has not considered our last offer yet but he will talk to his claims manager about it and telephone us 

18 February 2011After a period of time during which our particular Lakshami apparently leaves and there is much application of head to brick wall about the meaning of “global” we are told that a cheque for damages has been issued and the file has been sent to specialist solicitors in Manchester to deal with the costs.

21 February 2011 - Specialist solicitors in Manchester write to advise that they are dealing with the costs.  We write and ask them why when this is a Portal claim and fixed costs are prescribed by court rules. 

23 February 2011 - James telephones. He wants to check that they have all the disbursement vouchers.  Yes that ONE bill from the doctor for £50 is “all the disbursement vouchers”.  He says a cheque for part-payment of the costs is on the way but they just need to verify the success fee (this is worth £120 by the way).  Do we have a conditional fee agreement in place?  Yes - we confirmed that on the initial form submitted to the Portal at the beginning of August last year.  James will just have to check that with his manager..

24 February 2011 - James calls again.  He asks again about the success fee.  We tell him that we spoke to him yesterday about this.  He then announces that insurers no longer have a copy of the initial form that was sent to them via the Portal.  He wants another copy.  He also asks again about the disbursement vouchers and we confirm that it is just the £50 that is being claimed. Yawn.

The same day James sends us an e-mail asking for all this information that his insurer client had six months ago.  We all fall about laughing in the office here at the fact that this costs specialist cannot spell his own surname correctly in his e-mail.

2 March 2011 - After we send further copies of the information we sent at the outset through this highly-efficient portal, we get the balance of costs paid.  One wonders how much the costs specialists in Manchester earn for effectively triple-checking less than £200 worth of the prescribed claim for costs?

The answer to that last question is that it doesn’t matter to this insurer and others.

What matters is that however much it costs they make it ever more difficult for innocent victims of accidents to pursue compensation, one of the key strategies being to drive people who know how to deal with them off the playing field because it is economically insane to be in the game.

Cynical? Remember that we’re dealing with people who think it is OK to trouser secretly hundreds of pounds for selling their own policyholders’ claims, and then blame rising costs on the lawyers who champion the rights of victims.