Benefit clawback may be ditched

Legal bodies campaigning to stop social security benefits being clawed back from accident victims are hoping to see their efforts pay off later this year.

Social Security Minister Roger Evans is expected to propose new legislation to change the clawback system this autumn, following years of campaigning by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil), the Law Society and the TUC.

Under the current system, victims of accidents who claim benefits during illness and recuperation have to pay the benefits back to the Government when they are awarded damages over £2,500. In contributory negligence cases, plaintiff damages are reduced but the victim still has to repay all the benefits he received.

Legal bodies argue that some responsibility for paying back benefits should lie with the defendant or his insurer and that victims should not have to refund the Government out of their general damages, awarded for pain and suffering.

Caroline Harmer, president of Apil, said: “The present system is absolutely wrong. It is essential that general damages remain untouched.” She added that sometimes cases produced nothing for the victim and cited a recent case in which a plaintiff was awarded £23,000 in damages but had to pay all the money back to the DSS.

The Law Society wants the Government to put an end to clawback from general damages, to introduce proportionality in contributory negligence cases and to look at the situation of victims who pursue claims in other jurisdictions.

Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society civil litigation committee, said: “The existing litigation works very unfairly with plaintiffs sometimes effectively litigating for the DSS.”

She added that Law Society representatives acting for the insurance sector agree with the society's view. “There is an emerging consensus among the major players on this subject and we very much hope there will be a Bill.”