Drivers are being denied millions of pounds worth of pothole payouts

Drivers are being denied millions of pounds worth of pothole payouts as councils reject three in four claims

  • Claire Cox, 61, from East Sussex got no compensation despite shredding her tyre
  • Ian McKaigg, 77, was denied his payout because the road ‘wasn’t bad enough’ 

Councils are turning away millions of pounds worth of compensation claims for injuries and damage caused by potholes – rejecting three in four claims.

Thousands of motorists and cyclists submit claims to councils and highway authorities each year for injury compensation and repair bills after hitting potholes.

But a damning Mail audit has shown less than one in four claimants receive a payout. And one in five local authorities reject at least 90 per cent of claims.

Last night councils were accused of trying to ‘wriggle out of responsibility’ with ‘seemingly arbitrary’ compensation.

Among the worst examples was Dundee City Council – which rejected 96 per cent of claims over a three-year period.

Councils are turning away millions of pounds worth of compensation claims for injuries and damage caused by potholes [Stock photo]

Each year at least 45 of 50 highway authorities in the Mail audit rejected more claims than they paid out on.

Many are rebuffed on the basis of a loophole in the Highways Act 1980 which states that councils and other highway authorities are liable for claims only if they have not inspected roads frequently or made repairs in adequate time.

Councils can also plead ignorance if a pothole has not been reported.

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘Drivers may not be aware that their chances of claiming any pothole damage costs back from a local authority is virtually zero if the council can say it wasn’t aware of a problem with the road in the first place.’

Over 200 highway authorities maintain and manage roads across England, Scotland and Wales.

‘Tyre was shredded but I got no compensation’

Claire Cox pictured alongside her car

Claire Cox from Wadhurst, East Sussex, had her claim for compensation rejected after her tyre was ‘completely shredded’ by a ‘huge pothole’. 

The 61-year-old was driving home with her elderly mother after visiting her father in hospital on a cold, dark, rainy evening in March 2020 when she felt an ‘almighty bump’. 

The mother-of-two had driven into a ‘huge pothole’, she said: ‘It was completely dark and filled with water, we weren’t going fast.’ 

They made it home but had to pay £115 for a new tyre. The next day Mrs Cox went back to the pothole to take photos. She said: ‘It was well over six inches deep… and obviously filled with water.’ She sent the photos to East Sussex County Council along with a claim form – but did not hear back for weeks and when she did, she said they asked her to ‘jump through endless hoops’. 

Three months after the incident she received a letter from the council rejecting her claim on the grounds the council had checked the road three weeks prior and it had been fine. 

She said she ‘didn’t have the energy’ to appeal the decision as her father was so sick, adding: ‘This is what they bank on, that people will give up, because it’s too much effort.’ 

An East Sussex Highways spokesman said: ‘We do understand it is frustrating when motorists sustain damage as a result of a pothole, and whilst we cannot comment on individual compensation claims, we would assure the public that every compensation claim we receive is carefully assessed. 

‘All claims are acknowledged within 21 days and determined within 90 days.’ 

Most are county, city and borough councils – with National Highways responsible for motorways and large A-roads in England, while Transport for London (TfL) maintains some roads in the capital.

The Mail analysed claims data from a sample of 50 highway authorities obtained via Freedom of Information requests, looking at the three financial years from April 2019 to March 2022.

For the small number of authorities which kept records in calendar years, the three years from 2019 were assessed.

Overall around £3million was paid out in compensation by the same group each year.

But with around 75 per cent of claims being rejected each year, it could mean up to £9million was denied by these councils alone.

Dundee City Council had the worst payout rate of the sample, having paid out on just 1.4 per cent of claims over the period and rejected 96 per cent, with the remaining yet to be decided.

And Gloucestershire County Council paid out on just 93 of the 1,667 claims it received – a little over 5 per cent.

In London TfL closed 93 per cent of claims submitted without compensation and have so far paid out on just 24 of the 776 in total.

Lincolnshire had one of the best payout rates of the group – rewarding 48 per cent of its claimants with 123 still undecided.

Tory MP Greg Smith, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘Drivers are taxed at every turn, taxed on buying or leasing their car, taxed to literally have it on the roads and taxed heavily to fuel their cars. Those whose cars are damaged by the roads they pay so much for through their taxes deserve fair compensation, the seemingly arbitrary nature of payouts, with authorities up and down the land trying to wriggle out of responsibility, is just not on.’

Sir Christopher Chope, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Better Roads, said: ‘People don’t realise their rights and so as a matter of course councils and their insurers are getting away with saying, ‘It’s not our fault, we didn’t know about it until you hit the pothole’. So in my view we should have a system of strict liability.’

The Conservative MP added: ‘If the councils were less able to get away with all of these claims, it would caution them to be less cavalier about their road maintenance.’

Many repair bill payouts can total hundreds while some of the highest individual personal injury payouts of the sample surpassed £20,000.

Cyclists are at real risk of serious injury from potholes, with 425 killed or injured due to poor or defective road surfaces since 2016, according to the Department for Transport.

Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK campaigns manager, said: ‘One pothole can cause an experienced cyclist to suffer a life-changing collision.’

The Mail is campaigning to end Britain’s pothole plague which is costing motorists millions in repair bills and putting cyclists at risk.

Clearing the pothole backlog in England and Wales has reached a record cost of £14billion – up nearly £1.5billion on last year, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

A Local Government Association spokesman said councils ‘prefer to use their budgets to keep our roads in good condition’ rather than paying out for compensation claims.

A Gloucestershire County Council spokesman said ‘almost 5,000’ potholes were filled in April alone.

Andy Wiseall, TfL’s head of asset operations, said its repair programme ‘prevents thousands of injuries each year’.

A Dundee City Council spokesman said: ‘Each claim is dealt with on its individual merits.’

Road ‘wasn’t bad enough’ 

Ian McKaigg received no compensation either

Ian McKaigg, 77, from Cheshire, rolled his car home on Christmas Eve after he burst a tyre in a pothole – but his council refused his compensation claim. 

Mr McKaigg was forced to the edge of the road by an agricultural vehicle where the tarmac was broken. 

He put in a claim for £120 for the tyre with Cheshire West and Chester Council but found the suspension was damaged, bringing the cost nearer £450. 

But this was denied on the grounds the road quality was not bad enough. 

A council spokesman said it provided a full response about the claim after an investigation by a claim handler.

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