How to report a pothole and claim for pothole damage
As new research shows authorities have paid motorists more than £12 million in compensation for pothole damage since 2018, we take a closer look at what you can do and how to claim...
Councils and road authorities across Britain paid out more than £12 million in compensation to motorists between 2018 and 2021 for damage caused by poor road surfaces and potholes.
The figure was revealed following a What Car? investigation, which also showed that motorists logged more than 145,000 compensation claims for vehicle damage caused by badly maintained roads during that period.
Of those claims, 37,366 (25.7%) were successful, with authorities paying £12,991,216 in total compensation – approximately £347 per successful claim. By comparison, the cost of filling a pothole has previously been estimated to cost £47.
What Car? also surveyed 470 motorists, with 23.6% reporting they’ve damaged their vehicle in the past 18 months from hitting a pothole. Two-thirds of respondents were aware they could claim for the damage caused from their local roads authority, although just 10.2% had ever done so.
The research comes after The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) published its latest ALARM report, which showed local authorities in England and Wales face a nine-year backlog of road repairs estimated to cost £12.6 billion.
Highways England, which manages a 4300-mile network of motorways, dual carriageways and other A-roads that link towns and cities across England, was found to have compensated drivers the most – totalling £865,254.
Meanwhile five county and city councils were found to have paid more than half a million in compensation between 2018 and October 2021: Lincolnshire County Council, Surrey County Council, Lancashire County Council, Staffordshire County Council, and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
While 344 local and roads authorities answered What Car?’s freedom of information request, 161 of them stated they were unable to provide figures as road compensation often fell under the remit of county and city councils, rather than borough or district councils.
What can be done to fix the problem?
More money would help, but the AIA is concerned that there’s an imbalance between the investment in new roads, motorways and other major routes and local authorities’ road budgets.
"Local roads make up 98% of the network and carry two-thirds of the traffic," said a spokesperson. "Yet the amount local authorities will get from the Government’s capital funding programme is vastly lower than the amount Highways England will get for the strategic roads network."
Whatever the split in the roads budget between major routes and roads maintained by local councils, spending the available cash wisely is key. That means less firefighting, and more planning. The AIA describes this as an "invest to save" approach that authorities can put into practice with an asset management plan.
Part of the problem is bad weather, in particular wet and very cold weather. If water gets into cracks in the road surface then freezes, it expands, making the cracks bigger. Repeat the process a few times and eventually small imperfections turn into potholes. So the harsher the winter, the worse the pothole problem becomes.
The AIA is adamant, though, that there should be no blaming harsh winters or heavy rain. It said: "A decent, well-made road will throw back anything the British climate can throw at it. Just look at the roads in Scandinavia, which deal with more extreme weather and yet don’t break up. The reason our roads don’t cope is years and years of chronic underfunding. It’s the legacy of a lack of investment."
How to claim compensation if your car is damaged by a pothole
If your car is damaged and the local authority hasn’t cared for the road properly, you can claim compensation. Here’s how:
1. Gather evidence
As soon as possible, take photographs of the pothole. If the road isn’t too busy and it’s safe to do so, measure the width and depth of the pothole, too.
2. Make a report
Let the relevant local authority know about the pothole. You can use websites such as potholes.co.uk or fillthathole.org.uk, or contact the council responsible for the road directly. Tell them the place, road name or number, and let them have contact details of any witnesses to the damage. Send the photos and measurements you have taken, too.
3. Find out when the road was last inspected by the council
Do this by submitting a Freedom of Information request to the authority responsible for the road (most likely the local council, but major roads are the responsibility of Highways England, Transport Scotland or the Welsh Government). This evidence will be useful if your claim is rejected.
4. Make your case
Write to the local authority concerned, explaining in polite but firm terms why you think it is responsible for the damage to your car; remember it’s their legal responsibility to maintain the road network. Give full details of the incident that led to the damage, and point out any other relevant information, such as if the road has not been inspected by the council for a long time, if you have this information.
5. Be rational
If your claim is rejected, try to be objective. Does the authority have a solid defence under section 58 of the Highways Act 1980? This gives authorities the right not to pay out if they have taken reasonable measures to regularly inspect roads and repair them if necessary. If the council has followed the national code of practice then your claim may fail. If it hasn’t, however, stick to your guns.
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