The British Safety Council has lent its support to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) campaign for the retention of fair access to legal representation for injured workers after a bill gained sufficient backing to become law last month.
The Civil Liabilities Bill, which passed its third reading on 23 October, is intended to ‘reform the claims process for whiplash claims’.
However, critics say the government’s changes, which raise the small claims limit – from £1,000 to £5,000 (for road traffic injury claims) and to £2,000 for other personal injury claims – will also risk pricing thousands of people from seeking compensation and justice for injuries sustained at work.
David Parr, policy and technical services director at the British Safety Council, said: “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 through work, but if they are, workers should have the support and agency to hold the employer to account, so that incidents do not reoccur.”
MPs have rushed to point out the bill’s defects, which will force a significantly greater number of claims to be dealt with through the small claims procedure, whereby no legal costs are usually awarded, even in successful claims.
Richard Burgon MP, shadow secretary of state for justice, said: “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.”
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, said claims forced into the small claims court could include work-related injuries such as ‘a brain or head injury, injuries to the eyes, a collapsed lung, or fractured cheekbones’.
“This is a disproportionate response to the stated aim of dealing with whiplash claims,” he said.
The rollout of personal injury reforms will not be until 2020 and still needs to be approved by statutory instrument. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Our campaign continues.” He added: “We will be seeking a vote of the whole House of Commons and asking MPs to support our campaign to stop the government forcing more injured workers into the small claims court.”
More about the bill and Usdaw's campaign here
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