Beleaguered motorists suffers millions of pounds’ worth of damage to their vehicles every year - simply by accidentally hitting an unavoidable or hidden pothole. Most people write off the costs of repair as 'one of those things' - after all, who else is going to pay for it?
However, you aren’t as powerless as you might think; if your car, motorcycle or bicycle has been damaged by an unrepaired pothole you might be able to claim for the full value of putting that damage right.
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I won’t pretend that the process is simple, because it isn’t: local councils have a tendency to make the process as long-winded as they can in the hope that you’ll give up and go away.
Here’s our guide to fighting back!
How common is the pothole problem?
FillThatHole.org.uk estimates that there is a surface defect for every 110 metres of road. Or, to put it another way, a car is damaged every 11 minutes by a pothole in the UK – and the cost of repairing every pothole in the country is estimated at a whopping £12 billion.
So potholes are a real problem?
Yes, they are and the problems aren’t just limited to damaged tyres and wheels. Cyclists are extremely vulnerable to potholes; even a relatively small one can throw them off course and into the path of traffic. The results are sometimes fatal.
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So why aren’t councils repairing them?
While the relevant council has a duty to repair potholes, it can only do so if it knows about them. This is something that every authority is acutely aware of, and it needs your help in reporting them when you spot one.
How can I report a pothole?
The easiest way to report a pothole is by doing it online. The gov.uk website has a ‘Report a Pothole’ page that takes you through the process step-by-step.
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How do I claim for damage?
The process for claiming is straightforward, if a little long-winded. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer damage or injury as a result of a pothole, these are the steps you need to take:
• Make a note of when and where the incident occurred.
• If it is safe to do so, take a photograph of the pothole and measure its dimensions.
• You should also take a snap or two of the damage that was caused.
• Report the pothole using the link above.
• Submit a Freedom of Information Act application to the council asking how frequently that stretch of road is inspected, along with any evidence that it has been. This needs to be done before you make a claim.
• After you get your FoIA reply, submit a claim for the damages to the relevant local authority or the Highways Agency if it is an A-road or motorway it maintains. Stay calm and professional as your letter may well be read out in court at some point. Draw a small map showing where the pothole was and describe the damage it caused. Attach copies of any photographs you have that support your claim.
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The council may well deny your claim, citing Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. This gives it a defence if it has a system in place to identify and repair potholes in a timely manner.
If you receive such a letter you will need to compare your council’s maintenance programme (which you’ve already got, courtesy of your FoIA application) with best practice. If your research shows that it is following the guidelines, then your claim is unlikely to succeed.
However, if the council isn’t following the guidelines you may have a claim.
You’ll need to write to it again pointing out why you think your claim should succeed. Remember: negotiation and compromise is always better than a court case.
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Taking your claim to court
However, if the council won’t pay up and you still think your case is a strong one then it might be time to issue a claim. This can be done online and if you win you should be able to get the fee back.
If you are unsure as to whether you have a claim, or don’t know whether you should issue proceedings against the council, you should seek legal advice before taking any further action.
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