Potholes: how to claim

Everybody is talking about the pothole problem here in the UK. This year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey (ALARM) has found that you could drive almost around the world on the length of local roads in England and Wales that could fail if they are not fixed in the next 12 months.

Despite the fact a pothole is filled every 21 seconds, it seems the UK just can’t keep up. The Asphalt Industry Alliance has suggested that it would take 14 years to complete a one-time catch up, costing a staggering £9.3billion. And despite extra funding from the government, it just isn’t enough. The survey report warns of an annual £556million funding shortfall for the road repairs in the UK.

Even at slow speeds a deep pothole can damage your tyres, wheels and steering alignment. Hitting one at high speed can cause a lot of damage to your vehicle and even worse, lead to a crash.

According to the ALARM survey, £7.3million has been paid out in the UK for road user compensation claims, so here’s what you should do if you hit a pothole and need to make a claim.

Potholes in road

Check your car for damage

When it’s safe to do so, carefully pull over and check for any obvious damage. If you notice any vibrations or that your steering feels like it’s pulling when you get back on the road, you should take your car to a garage to get it checked over. It might cost you a small fee, but it could save you taking a bigger hit later.

Note things down

Make a record of the incident itself. Where was the pothole? What time and on what date did you hit it? What were the driving conditions? Keep a note of the weather and traffic. Even making sketches can be useful. Anything that helps refresh your memory or could support your case if you need to make a claim.

Take some pictures – if safe to do so

To be classified as a pothole, many councils state that the hole must be 40mm deep – about the height of two 20p coins. If the pothole that damaged your vehicle is not this deep, you can still claim, however you may find it harder to recover any costs.

That’s why it’s a good idea to take some photographs of the pothole – if it’s safe to do so. If you can return to the scene with a tape measure, take pictures documenting exactly how wide/deep the pothole is. Providing pictures which identify the exact location will also be helpful.

Report the pothole to the responsible authority

Whether the pothole has damaged your car or not, you should always report it. By contacting who is responsible, you’ll help to keep the roads safe and prevent accidents happening to other drivers. If you do make a claim, reporting the pothole first will back up your appeal.

Different authorities are responsible for different roads, you can find the relevant contact details through Gov.uk.

Get any damages to your car repaired

If the pothole has caused enough damage that you need to get it repaired, you should get several quotes first. Always keep a record of the damage to help with your claim and make sure you keep all paperwork, including quotes, invoices and receipts. In order to win a claim, you will need to prove that the damage was caused by the pothole and not a pre-existing problem, therefore getting your mechanic to put this in writing may prove to be a big help later on. 

Make a claim

Once you have collated the evidence, the next step is for you to make a claim.

1.   If possible, try a fast claim

To get the ball rolling as quickly and simply as possible, try using the authority’s own claim process. This usually means filling in a form and sending it off, along with any evidence they request. However, it’s useful to include any additional evidence you have gathered to help boost your case.

You may have received a form from when you reported the pothole, if not you can check the authority’s website to see if they have their own claims process. Not every authority lets you do a fast claim, and if they do, it's not always successful. But it's always worth trying first.

After submitting, one of the possible three outcomes will happen:

  • You win – The authority has agreed to pay the full amount of the repair costs, if this happens, congratulations! Your claim is now finished.
  • You get a partial offer - The authority has agreed to pay part of the costs from the repairs. If you are not happy with this, it may be worth replying to state that you believe they should have offered you more. If they don’t give you a better offer, you can put in a full claim if you feel this is worth the time and effort.
  • Your claim is rejected - If your claim has been turned down, don’t be put off, it’s quite common and possible you could actually succeed in the next stage of making a full claim. 

2. Make a full claim

If your fast claim has been rejected or if the authority does not offer a fast claim option, it’s time to make a full claim. Before you get started, it’s important to know that the process will not be simple. You will have to dig a little deeper and into greater detail for your claim to be a success.

The first step you will need to take is to ask for details of the council's road repair policy and inspection history. This covers how often roads are inspected, the size of damage to be repaired and how quickly repairs should be carried out.

You can use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to obtain the information from the authority responsible for maintaining the road the pothole was on. To submit a FOI request, you simply email the FOI department, which should be listed on the authority’s website, stating you are making a FOI request along with any questions. Using an FOI request means the authority legally has to respond within 20 working days.

When you have received the road maintenance policy and inspection logs, you will need to check what their own policy is for inspecting and repairing roads, and whether this matched what they actually did.

If you find discrepancies, such as the authority did not inspect the road as often as it should have or didn't repair it as quickly as it should have, you have a decent case.

After looking at whether the authority followed its own road maintenance and inspection policy, if the authority is a council you can also check whether the policy itself meets national standards. Councils are able to make their own rules, however there is a document called the Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice which sets out the national standards. If you find the councils rules were inadequate, you may still be able to argue negligence.

Once you have compiled your evidence, it’s time to make your appeal. You can write to the authority and outline the evidence you have collected. Make sure you attach all the paperwork with your letter. It’s also important that you clearly state what you are owed for the repairs and explain why you believe the authority is liable.

The authority will often pay you if you can prove their negligence. However, If your claim is rejected, you do have the right to take it to a small claims court.

Don’t forget, you should always notify your insurer of any incident as soon as possible, regardless of whether you intend to claim. Your insurer will give you details on how long you have till you need to file a claim, which should hopefully give you time to see if a claim from the responsible authority will work first. It is important to be aware that if you do notify your insurer, there is a chance that your premium could be affected in the next policy year, even if you don’t actually claim.

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