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Press Release: Worst-off paying the price for Britain's 'compensation culture' myth

On the eve of the Government’s review into health and safety laws, National Accident Helpline publishes research showing that the worst off are paying the price for the stigma created by the myth of a ‘compensation culture.’

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30 September 2010 / personal-injury-news

On the eve of the Government’s review into health and safety laws, National Accident Helpline [‘NAH’], the leading marketing and legal services company for solicitors, today publishes research showing that the worst off are paying the price for the stigma created by the myth of a ‘compensation culture.’

The report finds that in reality only a small fraction of people are aware of their rights to seek redress for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence, and that major barriers are dissuading people from accessing the legal system when they have every right to do so.

Based on a poll of 1600 people by Opinion Matters, The Scale of Injustice: How the British public is paying the price for the compensation culture myth, explores the British public’s true attitudes towards personal injury claims and solicitors, and their awareness of legal rights.

Under the current system, a person who has been injured through somebody else’s fault and has suffered an injury and possibly financial loss is legally entitled to seek redress to restore them as far as possible to the position they were in before they suffered the injury. But over the years the process of seeking that redress has gained a reputation as a means to making a quick buck, fuelling perceptions about a rampant ‘compensation culture.’

As a result, the Government has commissioned Lord Young to conduct a review into health and safety laws. His recommendations are due imminently. Drawing on external sources, including Government and industry experts, as well as NAH’s own consumer findings, The Scale of Injustice shows that there is no evidence of a ‘compensation culture.’ The report comes as NAH is launching a campaign to raise industry standards in the personal injury sector and champion the right of the consumer to seek justice.

Key research findings:

  • Confusion about personal injury claims is almost universal: only 6 per cent say they are confident they know their legal rights
  • The biggest driver for accessing legal support following a personal injury is to fight for what is regarded as ‘right’
  • In employment liability cases, six in ten (59 per cent) feel the power balance favours the employer rather than the individual and an almost identical proportion of people (60 per cent) would feel guilty about bringing a case against their employer
  • Eight out of ten perceive significant obstacles to seeking redress for a personal injury
  • There is a major social stigma associated with personal injury compensation: More than half of people (57 per cent) consider that those who have sought compensation for their injuries are ‘working’ the system
  • Peer perception matters: Four in ten (39 per cent) are concerned by how they would be perceived by others if they were to seek legal help following a personal injury which was someone else’s fault

Commenting on the report, Samantha Porteous, CEO of National Accident Helpline, said: “As the debate about access to justice is about to kick off again with the publication of Lord Young’s review into health and safety laws, NAH is injecting some balance into what has so far been a very one-sided public debate fuelled by the insurance industry and some inaccurate media reports.

“The common misperception of people accessing the legal system to seek redress for personal injuries is one of opportunist litigation and unjust payouts. In reality, however, such cases are few and far between and the compensation picture is very different. Our research shows that many consumers are reluctant to approach solicitors and that the barriers to justice are significant.

“This is particularly true for those consumers in lower socio-demographic groups, who have serious concerns about cost and a perception of solicitors as unapproachable. This results in many people being reluctant to seek redress for their injury even though the personal costs of doing nothing are often vast.

For most low-income families, the immediate financial impact of an accident can be crippling and, in the longer term, resultant health problems often reduce an injured person’s earning potential and household income significantly. “Compensation should not be a dirty word: relatively small sums can make a huge difference to people’s lives. We’re talking about money that helps people get back on their feet after a lifeaffecting injury.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK annual income after tax was around £16,655 in 2009. Considering that the average payout for employment liability claims is £3,821, this equates to almost two months’ wages, a massive difference to many families. “To be absolutely clear, NAH backs any Government attempts to kick out malpractice in the personal injury sector, but cutting red tape should not be confused with restricting access to justice for those who have suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence.”

About the research: The research was carried out on behalf of NAH by Opinion Matters, between 20th August and 6th September 2010, surveyed 1,619 UK adults representing:

  • A cross section of geographic regions across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
  • The full spectrum of company sizes: from micro (1-9 employees) to large (250+ employees)
  • Those employed in a range of industry sectors including legal; HR; IT & telecoms; finance; sales, media & marketing; retail catering & leisure; healthcare; manufacturing, engineering and utilities; travel and transport; education; public sector; construction & manual labour; and the unemployed Supporting third party data
  • According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ Compensation Recovery Unit, employer liability claims have fallen 69 per cent in the last ten years: from 219,183 claims in 2000/1, to 78, 744 claims in 2009/10; Department for Work and Pension, Compensation Recovery Unit;
  • Two and a half million personal injuries in the UK result from an accident that should - and could - have been avoided. Yet only one in three (31 per cent) of those 2.5 million successfully claim compensation; Citizen’s Advice Bureau No Win No Fee No Chance, December 2004;
  • According to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK annual income after tax was around £16,655 in 2009
  • The average payout for employment liability claims is £3,821 [equating to almost two months’ wages, based on the above ONS data]; Datamonitor, UK Personal Injury Litigation 2009, p18 

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