Sunday, 23 February 2014

"Splendid value"

Well, it’s been a frightfully dull February so far at Spentitt Hall if I say so myself.

As if we hadn’t enough to worry about with the wurzels racking up huge claims to refurb their flooded hovels, those oikies at This is Money went and blew the whistle on the staff who were trying their best to make amends for the alleged underpayment of nearly 800,000 villagers who parked their life savings with us.

Apparently our chaps have been a tad slow in dealing with the matter and it’s taken seven years to reimburse £163 million to around 390,000 of these coves. We’ve now had to promise (cross heart hope to die and all that) to deal with the other half in record time – have it all tidied up by the end of next year and what not.

I’m not really au fait with all this technological mumbo-jumbo but Lady Geek-Geek, as Higson and I refer to her (sotto voce of course) has been on that interweb thingy and found the gruesome detail

Anyway, one’s tucked away just under a third of a mill to cover these claims which are reported to have occurred because of ‘technical errors’ we’re said to have known about since 2007!

Now Lady Brassick’s pulling out what little hair the poor thing has left following all the hue and cry about this alleged data security breach. They’re saying that tens of thousands of chaps and chapesses who’d had a prang whilst insured with yours truly have had their intimate details sold by a couple of domestics.

I’ve given Higson a bit of a grilling on this subject and he’s assured me that everything should be tickety-boo. Although it says quite clearly in our Privacy Policy (might need to rename that, on reflection - ha ha) that we’re allowed to share personal information with our ‘service providers’, since m’learned friends made such a fuss about referral fees or some such nonsense a while ago we’ve had to be a bit careful not to lend credence to any of this “brown envelope” tittle-tattle.

The bewigged ones just won’t leave it alone of course, forever whining about the new ABS project even though it’s perfectly legit. They will harp on about it being all MI6 and “behind closed doors”.

Now Old Aunty’s been rummaging through the dirt and produced this report featuring some chap who had the nerve to say "I assumed this was normal industry practice, that a car insurance company would disclose this information to third parties. I didn't know any better." Really, I ask you.

Well Higson assures me the culprits have been sacked and there’ll be no scurrilous suggestions from the ambulance-chasers that these tiresome telephone calls are a result of anything other than the footmen running a bit of a sideline on the QT.

Lady Geek-Geek remains inconsolable, poor old thing. She’s spent hours on that new-fangled box of tricks of hers weeping over this extract from the grilling that poor Clayden endured, whilst he was head butler, on a trip up to Town last year:

“Q182 Karen Lumley: How do they get the information that these people have had accidents? Do they get them from you?

Dominic Clayden: No. Whether it is a claims management company or whatever, a fraud ringdoesn’t—

Q183 Karen Lumley: I am not talking about a fraud ring; I am talking about people who get whiplash. How do people get hold of them?

Dominic Clayden: You are probably best to ask the people giving evidence later. My understanding is that it is by advertising.

Q184 Karen Lumley: You don’t sell details on to them?

Dominic Clayden: Not to accident or claims management companies, no.

Q185 Chair: Are you absolutely sure about that?

Dominic Clayden: Do I refer claims to solicitors? Yes.

Q186 Karen Lumley: Do you sell those details on?

Dominic Clayden: Not since the change in the law in that situation. I do not receive a referral fee.

Q187 Chair: But you did before then.

Dominic Clayden: Absolutely. We have been a strong advocate of the ban on referral fees and the reduction of the legal fees that go with it. It is the nature of the system. The reality is that, to remain competitive in a market where something is legal, we referred and took a referral fee. We still refer people to solicitors but we do not take a referral fee.

Q188 Chair: We have had quite a lot of evidence saying that insurers themselves often generate claims. The Government have said that they would like to see you, the insurance companies, address behaviours that encourage excessive and unnecessary claims within their own business models. It appears that the Government think that you are the people who are generating the claims. Are they wrong?

James Dalton: As Dominic has said, the system has changed very recently.

Q189 Chair: But before it changed you were guilty of this, were you?

James Dalton: The industry has long said that there is a dysfunctional compensation culture

in the UK and that we are part of the problem.

Q190 Chair: What I am putting to you is that part of that dysfunctional system is the behaviour of the insurance companies. That is what the Government say.

James Dalton: Yes; and we have admitted that the insurance industry has played a part in that dysfunctional system, which is why we made a very strong case for the banning of the payment and receipt of referral fees.” 

(See more at
Hey diddle diddle)

And I thought these modern motors were meant to be trouble-free! 

Anyhow, must dash. The old dear’s muttering something about tablets and laptops. I think the pressure may be getting to her finally. More ghastly weather on the way so best try to plug the leaks and so forth. Pip pip!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Do as I say..

Today we made one of those routine calls to the litigation capital in East Lancashire to find out why we still have not received notice of issue of proceedings in a case where we sent paperwork up North eleven days ago.

We were met with a familiar response.  To date “nothing has been logged on the system” although they are “currently 8 days behind”.  The suggestion is that we telephone again at the end of the week if we have not heard and they will look in to it further.

I should add that we haven’t telephoned before now because the most common response is that they are just 6 days behind.  They have been “behind” by that sort of period of time since the office opened, as far as I can recall.

Closer to home, we had instructions to issue a bankruptcy petition shortly before Christmas.  We sent the papers off to the debtor’s local court here in the West Country.

For various reasons, it was not the sort of thing to chase in the week before the festive period but we were on to it at the start of January.  We discovered that the petition had been issued on 18 December but the sealed copies had not been sent to us.  We got things moving, but were now hampered by the delay where the hearing date was at the end of January and personal service is required at least 14 days beforehand.

Our debtor does not want to play and has evaded service.  Despite our agent’s valiant efforts, time ran out and the petition was returned.  We asked for it to be relisted and at the same time submitted an application for an order for service by another means as it is now called, substituted service being a much too sophisticated term of art for the modern court user.

The application was returned to us without action and had to be resubmitted.  Meanwhile, having then been sent a notice of adjourned hearing date (that we could not yet serve) we remarked on the fact that the court was now spelling the debtor’s surname incorrectly.

After further chasing, last week, we received an order from the court.  It arrived a week after it left the district judge’s desk and too late for us to serve it, and the petition, ahead of the second hearing date. Even if we’d had time to serve it, we could not have done for these reasons. 

First, it recites that the district judge read a letter that does not exist.  Secondly, it has two “it is ordered that” sections, the first containing only two recitals.

Finally and most conspicuously, the (in)operative part of the order tells us that “the insertion of a sealed copy of the above mentioned petition together with a sealed copy of this order through the letterbox of [debtor’s address]....” – and it stops there.  So it is ineffective.

Oh, and the debtor's name is incorrect. Again.

The same court fairly recently sent us an order in another case which recited nothing but the fact that it had been in front of a district judge who then allegedly ordered that:-

"(1) The claimant should send a copy to the defendant’s (sic); and

(2) As both defendant’s (sic) reside within jurisdiction of xxxxxx County Court, so the matter be transferred there.”

When we enquired as to what it was that the claimant should send a copy of to the defendants then after another typical delay, we were told that it is a copy of the last letter that we sent to the court – which presumably was writing to defendants anyway to send a copy of this cryptic order.

When the Salford operation and the local courts start to interact (in the most ironic sense) we get what have become almost routine letters from the local courts, asking for a copy of the defence “as this was not on the court file when transferred”Bear in mind that the only reason the file was transferred from Salford is that a defence was filed. 

The pain doesn’t end when you have judgment. In one recent case the CCMCC sent us the form from Registry Trust (which keeps the register of county court judgments) asking whether the defendant was “two individual’s (sic) or a one firm name” to which the smart answer was to look at the claim form we filed at the outset with “(A firm)” after the defendant’s name.

Just a few short highlights of everyday life dealing with the Court Service – the delay, the additional expense, the frustration – ours that we feel and our clients’ that we field.


For those who haven’t heard, there was this bloke called Mitchell who used to be the government chief whip.  He lost his job because of a lying policeman – presumably no longer laughing since he went to prison.  Mitchell issued libel proceedings against the publishers of The Sun. See Cracking the whip for more

The rest is recent history where ultimately the Court of Appeal said that it was right to impose a penalty on Mr Mitchell and his lawyers which would effectively deprive him or them of perhaps more than £500,000 in costs if successful in the defamation proceedings.

All that because a very complex, detailed document was filed late – six days late.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, explained to a packed Court of Appeal that “there now has to be a shift away from exclusively focusing on doing justice in the individual case”.

That judgment has encouraged a subsequent spate of seemingly ridiculous applications.  In Lakatamia Shipping Co v Nobo Su there was a delay by one party of just 46 minutes in complying with an order for disclosure of documents.  The other side took the point and argued that the defence should be struck out.

In Meehan v Manley & Churchill Insurance Company the parties had agreed in the summer of 2013 an extension of time for service of witness statements.  There was seemingly no prejudice to anybody.

After the Mitchell judgment, the defendant took the line that the claimant could not rely on those witness statements because they had not been served in compliance with the court’s previous timetable and the agreement between the parties was ineffective to vary that.

Happily, in both of the cases referred to, a sensible outcome was achieved.  Forty six minutes was deemed – quite rightly – to be “trivial” and the stance taken with regard to the historic breach of the timetable for witness statements was condemned as “opportunistic”. It was said that if relief were not granted, “procedure would, in fact, become the mistress rather than the handmaiden of justice”

Further encouragement comes this week with the announcement from the Royal Courts of a new Practice Direction that allows parties to agree extensions of time of 28 days without application to the court, as long as hearing dates are not compromised.  That is expected to become a procedural rule but in the meantime we can only hope that it “appears on the system” of various county courts.

There seems a mixture of excitement and trepidation - that many are creeping around with the feeling that this is nothing short of (welcome) mutiny on the part of one or two brave judges who can see what a ridiculous state of affairs we have reached.

The punishing Mitchell edition of The Hunger Games is bad enough on its own but stack this alongside the increasingly inept, illiterate and inefficient service that has become standard within our court service and it becomes all the more bizarre.

There is a risk, to pinch out of similar context the phrase of a high court judge in another case early this year, that we are going to “bring the rules of procedure and the law generally into disrepute”.

It is already there and it needs pulling back – fast. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Prime time !

Reading earlier the reported prediction from LV= that car insurance premia will soon rise, even after Grayling has kicked the stuffing out of the personal injury claims industry and slashed costs for his insurer chums, reminded me of another display of efficiency and integrity I enjoyed last month.

It’s home insurance renewal time and I noticed that my current provider is now inviting a premium that adds nearly 50% to the figure at which I signed up with them three years ago, despite having had no claims and no significant change in circumstances. Odd, huh?

So, I head for the comparison websites and labour through the task of completing all the detail required by three of the top names. Amidst the results I am looking for a competitive price from a provider I am reasonably sure will not go bust. There are plenty of them offering the same cover for far less than I am invited to pay by my current insurer - and quite a few quoting less than I paid three years ago.

All good so far and one of the offers I think I will check out is from Admiral in Cardiff. I’m inclined to forgive them the ridiculous adverts on Dave that so annoy me. At least they are in a position to advertise hour upon hour, night after night.

Apparently I have to telephone them. That’s disappointing when I appear to have in front of me a “Quote” – “Platinum quote”, in fact - based on the detailed information that I have entered. Nevertheless...

My first telephone conversation is with a helpful young chap called Lee. I didn’t think it too surprising that he would want to check a few further details.

After no less than 40 minutes on the telephone, going through exactly the same stuff that I had entered on the website, I asked him how much longer it’s going to take. He thought about 10 minutes. I explained that I had never expected to have to spend so long on the telephone after all the time I had spent on the internet the day before and I had an appointment to go to.

No problem. Lee would ring me back the following day. We agreed a time. In my rush, I didn’t get a surname to accompany my "quote" reference.

When, towards the end of the following day, I hadn’t heard from Lee I telephoned Admiral again. Chloe, another chirpy young lady, couldn’t begin to tell me which “Lee” I might have spoken to yesterday because they have so many. Maybe she could help…

Sadly, she also couldn’t begin to tell me where we had got to within the proposal because there was apparently no record of anything I had talked to Lee about for nearly three quarters of an hour the previous day.

Understanding my reluctance to waste another 40 minutes of my life on the telephone, Chloe took me through all the detail again as quickly as she could and then told me that one area of cover required for portable items slightly exceeded normal criteria and she would need to refer to underwriters for approval. She would ring me back. Hmm – heard that one before somewhere..

I am guessing that after nearly a month, neither she nor Lee will be ringing back. I resolved in the meantime to have a look at some of the other prices obtained during my research the weekend before.

Following the link to the site of another reputable provider quoting slightly more, I was able to read and approve that company’s bespoke proposal form already populated with virtually all the information I had entered on the comparison website. One or two assumptions needed correcting but otherwise it was as I had already indicated – no more, no less. 

At the end of that process I had an emailed quotation (a real one) good for a month for me to accept at any time, simply by clicking and paying by my chosen method. No more telephone calls. The cover is as I requested, not limited or subject to any further enquiries.

During the long conversations with the people at Admiral I was asked which site I had used to generate my “quote” from them. In this particular case it was Compare the Market. 

I was told twice that the problem with that particular site is that they do not pass on as much information to insurers as the others and so they have to ask all these further questions. I was of course also warned that at the end of the process they might ‘quote’ me a higher price.

I never got to the end so can’t actually confirm what seems to me was inevitable.

What I did do was to look back and check the online proposal of which I saved my own static copy to satisfy myself that it had all the information that I was asked for on the telephone, including the detail within the category that reportedly exceeded criteria. All of this had been used to generate a “quote” which was of course the main reason why I then went on to contact that particular provider.

So, the bottom line appears to be that I am lured in by a price that they say that they are then going to vary for no obvious good reason and in the meantime the Meerkats get blamed – it seems unfairly. They can’t even be bothered to call me back and try to complete the dubious exercise.

I’m not sure about the adverts...... but the service is rubbish