HomeFinancePothole potluck: The worst councils reject 99% of claims for damages 

Pothole potluck: The worst councils reject 99% of claims for damages 

Potholes are a blight on Britain’s roads. Millions of the craters litter our highways and threaten costly damage to our vehicles.

Around 1.7 million potholes were repaired last year, an increase of 200,000.

And with winter weather coming, more are sure to appear over the coming months. But if you are unlucky enough to hit one, is it just rotten luck – or can you get a refund for repair costs?

Danger: Around 1.7 million potholes were repaired last year, an increase of 200,000 and with winter weather coming, more are sure to appear

Danger: Around 1.7 million potholes were repaired last year, an increase of 200,000 and with winter weather coming, more are sure to appear

Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged an extra £5billion towards local road maintenance in his Budget last month.

But campaigners are concerned this is still not enough, with the Local Government Association warning previously that 10 million potholes could remain unfilled.

Around £2.6million in compensation was paid to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in England and Wales for potholes in the 12 months to March, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance. And the RAC was called out to 1,361 breakdowns caused by potholes in three months this year.

But with as many as 99 per cent of claims rejected by councils, payouts for damage are far from guaranteed, with some motorists having to resort to legal action.

Postcode  lottery

If the authority responsible for a road does not act quickly after it is warned about a pothole, it could be liable to pay out if it later causes damage.

Highways England, Traffic Scotland and the Welsh Government are responsible for maintaining major roads and motorways, while local authorities look after minor residential networks.

Tips for claiming compensation 

  1. Report potholes as and when you see them direct to the local council or road authority or via websites such as fixmystreet.com or fillthathole.org.uk.
  2. Photograph the damage and the pothole. You can show the size of depth by putting a shoe or another object next to it.
  3. Get a few quotes for repairs to ensure you are not being overcharged. Keep all receipts for work completed and any reports about the damage.
  4. Include claims for any extra expenses such as public transport fares while you cannot use your car. Provide receipts.
  5. Consider a small claims court if your application is rejected. But check if you could be liable for costs if you lose to avoid additional expense.

Drivers can report wear and tear to the council or authority responsible for the road, either directly or through a site such as fixmystreet.com. If a motorist’s vehicle is damaged they can submit a claim for repairs by contacting the authority.

But motorists face a postcode lottery, with some councils routinely rejecting claims. Fife Council has one of the worst records for payouts. In 2020, claimants won just four of the 367 cases received.

And of the 847 cases lodged with Gloucestershire County Council in 2020, just 17 were paid out. As a result, motorists may have to take their case to a small claims court to receive compensation.

Motoring disputes specialist Scott Dixon, says: ‘More drivers are becoming more assertive, but it can be a postcode lottery with payouts. 

‘Many councils reject claims hoping drivers will not have the time or motivation to take the case on to small claims court.’

Cyclists can also claim for damaged bikes. Organisations such as Cycling UK, the London Cycling Campaign and British Cycling offer free legal advice to members on personal injury claims.

Bear in mind if you hire a no-win, no-fee law firm, it will take a percentage of your compensation.

Dig for facts

One of the most common excuses used by councils to reject a pothole claim is that they did not know it existed. 

Once a pothole has been flagged to them, councils are obliged to act in a timely manner to fix it under Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980.

Most councils will also only repair potholes which are more than 40mm deep.

However, it may still be worth pursuing a claim as some councils say they will take action if a hole is deemed a risk to the public. 

Lack of funds: The Local Government Association warned that 10 million potholes could remain unfilled

Lack of funds: The Local Government Association warned that 10 million potholes could remain unfilled

How long the council has to fix the hole depends on how busy the road is and the depth of the crater.

Potholes on popular roads with lots of traffic usually have to be repaired within seven days. Smaller holes, and those on quieter routes and streets, may not have to be fixed for six months.

If the council can prove it did not know of the damage or had not long received a report, your claim could be thrown out.

But this might not be correct. To refute a claim, you can ask for all ‘major road defect’ reports from the past five years by submitting a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the local authority.

You could also check fixmy street.com to see if anyone else has reported the pothole through the site. Councils are required to inspect busy roads every month, and quieter routes once a year. 

To find out if inspections are up to date, or if the pothole had been identified and not fixed, ask for road records from the past five years via an FOI request.

Drivers can also use Google Maps to find a street view image of the road. These images are often years old. 

There will be a timestamp showing when the photograph was taken in a box at the top left-hand side of the computer screen.

Campaigner Mark Morrell, known as ‘Mr Pothole’, says: ‘If you can see the pothole on Google Street View and the timestamp is dated before the most recent inspection, then you could prove the council should have picked it up before you hit it.’

Put up a fight 

Even if a council does agree to pay out, it may try to wriggle out of the full repair bill.

Stuart Mitchell, 57, was offered just £225 towards the £389 cost of repairing his Ford Fiesta after he hit a pothole on his way to work in December last year. 

The crater damaged the car’s front left tyre and exhaust. But Lincolnshire County Council claimed it should not have to pay the full bill as the car was 19 years old.

So Stuart paid £140 to take his case to the small claims court. And, in September, a judge ruled in his favour, ordering the council to pay him £645, including the full repair bill, court fee and £116 towards travel expenses while he could not use his car.

Stuart, 57, says: ‘It was a relief to win after so many months, but it’s frustrating to think councils are just ripping off motorists and the taxpayer because they don’t expect to be challenged.’

Lincolnshire County Council acknowledged the claim and confirmed payment had been made.

A Government spokesman says: ‘The Government is investing over £5 billion in roads maintenance over this Parliament — enough to fill in millions of potholes a year, repair dozens of bridges, and help resurface roads up and down the country.’

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