What are claims assessors and claims management companies?

There is no legal definition of a 'claims assessor' or a 'claims management company'. Different ones work in different ways. However, claims management companies normally use solicitors to help you with your case, while most claims assessors do not.

How much do they cost?
Claims assessors normally operate on a 'contingency fee' basis. This means that if you win compensation, the company will take a percentage of the amount you win as their fee. If you lose your case, they will usually get nothing. But you should check the terms offered carefully to make sure you understand what you would have to pay whether or not you win your case.

Claims management companies work in different ways, so how much you pay them (if anything) depends on how they work. You may have to pay a fee for the claims management company's work. But as well as or instead of this, the company may:

  • make you take out an insurance policy to ensure that you do not have to pay anything if you lose your case and are charged for the other side's costs. This type of insurance is expensive, so the claims management company may set up a loan for you to buy it; or
  • simply refer you to a solicitor, in which case you will have to discuss with them how to pay for your case.

If you win your case, you may be able to get the other side to pay the cost of any insurance you've taken out, as well as paying you compensation. However, there is no guarantee that you will get back all the cost of an insurance premium. And even if you win, you will probabaly still have to use part of your compensation to pay the interest charged on any loan you've taken out to cover the insurance.

Because there is no standard way that claims managment companies work or charge you, before you agree to let one take your case you should be clear about what you will, or may, have to pay. See 'Things to check if you are considering using a claims assessor or claims managment company'.

How is a claims management company or claims assessor different from a solicitor?
The main differences between using a claims management company that uses solicitors and employing a solicitor direct are:

  • the way you may have to pay for your case (see 'How much do they cost?' );
  • some claims management companies use a claims manager who acts as a go-between for you and the solicitor; and
  • a claims management company may insist that you take out an insurance policy to cover your opponent's costs if you loose your case, and a loan to pay for the insurance policy premium. If you use a solicitor, you can arrange these things seperately, if you feel you need it.

There are bigger differences if you use a claims assessor that doesn't use solicitors to put your case.

First, claims assessors can negotiate directly only with the organisation you believe is responsible for your injury. They cannot take court action for you nor represent you in court. This means that if they cannot get the right compensation for you, you will then have to use a solicitor to start court action. This kind of delay may put you beyond the time limits for bringing a claim (see 'How long do I have to make a claim?).

Claims management companies and claims assessors are not currently regulated (though the government is looking at doing so). All solicitors must follow the Law Society code of practice. Solicitors must have insurance against negligence, and they have their own complaints system, which you can use if you are not happy with how they handled your case. In this situation you can complain to the Law Society's Consumer Complaints Service. It can make solicitors pay you compensation if it finds they have not acted as they should have.

Things to check if you are using a claims assessor or claims management company
There are no specific rules and regulations covering how claims assessors and claims management companies must work (for example, how they can charge you). So you should ask some questions before agreeing to let one take on your case. You should check:

  • whether your case will be handled by a solicitor or by someone who isn't legally qualified;
  • whether they have any particular experience in your type of claim;
  • what you will have to pay for if you win your case (and when will you have to pay it);
  • what you will have to pay for if you lose your case (and when you will have to pay it); and
  • what you can do if you are not happy with how your case has been handled. 

How long do I have to make a claim?

If you are thinking about making a claim for compensation, it is important to get legal advice as soon as you can. This is because there are time limits for starting a personal injury claim. The time limits are different for different types of claim:

  • If your injury was caused by someone’s negligence, you must start court proceedings within three years of when you were injured, or of when you first knew you were injured and believed it was due to someone’s negligence (for example, if you are suffering from a disease caused by exposure to asbestos, you may not have become aware of your injury for years after you were exposed to it, so you can start proceedings within three years of finding out).
  • If you were assaulted (attacked), you must start court proceedings within six years of the assault. But if you are applying for criminal injuries compensation (CIC) the period is two years – see ‘What if I am a victim of crime?’.
  • If you are claiming for an incident involving an aircraft or boat, there are special time limits, which are less than three years, and will depend on the circumstances of the incident. You will need to seek specialist advice if you are making this type of claim.
  • If the case is about a child who has been injured, the time limit does not normally start until they turn 18 – see ‘What if I am claiming for a child?’.

If you were injured abroad, the time limits may be different – see ‘What if I was injured in an accident abroad?’.

You should get advice before:

  • contacting the person or organisation you think caused the injury ( though you should tell your employer at once if you were injured at work); or
  • replying to any letters or offers to settle your claim.

If you are not sure about whether you want to make a claim, you could go to a law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau to get advice about your options. They will also be able to tell you what information to take when you first go to see a solicitor. Most personal injury solicitors will give free advice on the phone or at a first interview.

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