Fleet operators are paying out millions of pounds on vehicle repairs to rectify damage caused by potholes and poorly-maintained road surfaces.
On average, fleets are facing bills of £147 per vehicle to get their cars back on the road at a total cost of £215 million. However, campaign group Potholes.co.uk is urging fleet operators to take the time to make a claim against the relevant authority.
Warranty Direct managing director Duncan McClure Fisher, who is also the founder of Potholes.co.uk, said: “Fleet managers have the same chance of recouping damage costs as any member of the public.
“We created the ‘how to claim’ guide to make things as clear and simple as possible for anyone who’s suffered because of potholes and we hear from many people who’ve followed the steps and made a successful claim.”
The number of claims received by local authorities for compensation as a result of poor road conditions has increased significantly in the past year, from 251 claims per authority to 363, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA).
In its Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey, it reveals the lowest amounts paid out were in England (not including London) where the average claim was around £440, compared with £1,500 in London and £1,000 in Wales.
Taking the amounts paid out and the estimated costs of processing claims, across England and Wales, compensation claims have cost an estimated £45.2m.
The AIA says that councils paid out 50% more last year than the previous year in compensation claims.
According to a number of fleets, councils are prepared to fill in potholes as a temporary measure when they are reported.
Their view is supported by figures from the AIA, which state that across England and Wales the number of potholes filled over the past year rose to more than two million, an increase of 29% on the previous year.
As a result, the AIA is calling for action from central Government to introduce longer-term funding mechanisms, allowing councils to move from one-year costly cycles of highly-reactive work to planned, preventative maintenance programmes.
This year, local authorities in England (including London) report a shortfall in their annual budgets of £829m. Across England and Wales, authorities estimate that £10.5 billion would be needed to bring their roads back into reasonable condition.
Fisher said: “We’ve seen more people visit the website in the first three months than we’ve ever seen before and we’ve already had more visitors than in the whole of 2012.
“It’s been a terrible winter for potholes and it’s important not to think that the problems are over. At Warranty Direct we’re expecting more claims for suspension failure in the coming months as people discover that their suspension has simply worn out from the punishment it’s been taking.”
Even hitting a small pothole can easily damage wheels, tyres and affect steering alignment, and the cost of such seemingly minor damage can quickly lead to a bill of around £500.
However, serious steering and suspension problems are becoming an increasingly common occurrence, according to Andrew Huntly, Halfords Autocentres business development director.
“From buckled anti-roll bars to smashed shock absorbers, the pothole pandemic is exacerbated by two main factors: the inability of local authorities to keep pace with highway maintenance and the componentry of modern cars which often requires the replacement of several inter-related parts and drives up the cost of each individual repair,” he said.
Potholes.co.uk offers fleets the contact details they need to report a pothole in your area, plus advice on how to make a claim if their car or van has been damaged.
Fisher concluded: “Claiming can be time-consuming, but the step-by-step nature of the guide means you can take the first few actions towards making a claim and then assess whether you’ve got a good chance of claiming before going any further.”
10 steps to making a claim
1 Gather evidence
As long as it’s completely safe to do so, take photographs, measure the pothole’s width and depth and note anything else about it, such as its position.
2 Report the pothole
As soon as possible after your accident, inform the council of the problem. You can find the relevant contact details on www.potholes.co.uk.
3 Submit a Freedom of Information Act
Submit a Freedom of Information Act to the relevant authority to find out how often the road is inspected and maintained.
4 Make your claim
Stay calm at all times. When contacting a council anything you say could be read out in court, so sound professional. Write an unemotional but detailed letter to the authority.
5 Don’t be deterred
If your claim gets rejected under section 58 of the Highways Act, don’t panic – this is not the end of the story.
6 Read the national code
Download the national code of good practice for highway maintenance.
7 Analyse your council’s practice
Highlight both where your council’s maintenance programme mirrors the code and where it differs.
8 Consider your case carefully
If the council’s inspection policy mirrors the national code and they’ve followed what they are supposed to, your claim is unlikely to succeed.
9 Don’t be hasty
Don’t rush to issue court proceedings or appoint a solicitor.
10 Be willing to negotiate
If an offer is made, be willing to negotiate and maybe accept less than you claimed for.
Further information is available at www.potholes.co.uk.
If any of your vehicles suffered damage caused by a pothole were you successful in making a claim against the responsible authority? Let us know your experience of trying to make a claim or why you chose not to claim by emailing email@example.com.