MPs are warning that people who suffer serious injuries in the workplace could be forced to forgo compensation owed to them due to looming changes in the small claims limit.
The new Civil Liabilities Bill cleared its final hurdle earlier this month to become an Act. It controversially raises the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000 (for road traffic injury claims) and to £2,000 for other personal injury claims.
The Bill intends to prevent dubious claims against insurance companies for whiplash injuries sustained in vehicle accidents by upping the threshold at which a claim can be taken to court. The Government says it will help lower insurance premiums which it says have risen because of the high number of whiplash claims.
However, Richard Burgon MP said a higher small claims limit would make it much harder for workers to get compensation for workplace injuries, and for genuinely injured people to get a fair settlement.
“A significantly greater number of claims will be dealt with through the small claims procedure, whereby no legal costs are usually awarded, even in successful claims.”
“When legal fees are not covered, tens of thousands of working people will simply be priced out of obtaining legal assistance, resulting in many pulling, dropping or not pursuing their cases.”
There are also concerns that workplace health and safety standards will drop as a result of the Bill, as employers become less likely to face legal action.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers said that fear of legal action was “one of the primary drivers for health and safety being a priority in the workplace.”
“The projected massive fall off in the number of claims as a result of these changes will inevitably lead to a reduction in health and safety measures, as employers will let standards slip because they know they’re unlikely to face the consequences in court.”
British Safety Council Policy and Technical Services Director, David Parr, said the bill amounted to denying workers access to justice.
“Workers should not be prevented from pursuing redress whenever they sustain workplace injury or ill-health through no fault of their own simply because of financial limitations.”
“No-one should be injured or made ill at work, but if they are, workers should have the support and agency to hold the employer to account, so that incidents do not reoccur.”
The Bill now proceeds to consideration of amendments before royal assent.