How UK Councils Avoid Paying Compensation for Damage Caused by Potholes

Research has been conducted into the ways UK local authorities approach repairing potholes, with “little consistency” found between authorities

A Pothole in London

New research has been published which shows the different ways the local authorities in the UK approach repairing roads in their jurisdiction.

Conducted by the RAC and Dispatches, the research was highlighted in the recent documentary The War on Britain’s Motorists: Dispatches, which aired on Channel 4 on 23 May. 

It shows what the RAC describes as “wildly differing approaches” between local authorities in the UK in how they treat road repairs, and even notes occurrences of motorists being denied compensation for vehicle damage in cases where the damage was caused by a surface defect that was highlighted for repair.

The research analysed the approach of 206 different authorities, with 59 of those not publicly stating any criteria for damage to roads that would prompt it to be repaired. 71 list specific measurements, mostly depths, but some also mention the width of holes. 76 simply say they take a “risk-based approach” when deciding which surface defects need repairing and the timescale for those repairs to happen.

Of those that list specific measurements, the most common (54 councils) was a depth of 4cm, while others stated that the depth must be 5cm before a repair is considered. 13 other councils, on the other hand, don’t mention depth at all, but say that a hole must be 30cm wide and 4cm deep before they’ll mark it down for a repair.

Within the group that states a “risk-based approach”, there is also difference. The RAC says that East Riding Council “very positively explains that it inspects all reported potholes within 24 hours, fixing the most urgent within the same timeframe, and then clearly sets out how it prioritises repairing the rest.” 

But it also says that Redcar and Cleveland Council operates “in complete contrast” to East Riding. Redcar and Cleveland Council “does not appear to have a single page on its website even referencing potholes, nor an ability for people to report them online,” the RAC says.

Speaking about the research, RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “For a long time, we’ve advised the public to report each and every pothole they come across to their local authority, not least as a council can refuse to compensate for damage caused from hitting one if they can prove they didn’t know it existed. But unfortunately, as this analysis shows, just reporting a road defect doesn’t guarantee it will get fixed.

“In some cases, councils state a pothole needs to be sufficiently deep or wide to be considered for repair. This can be enormously frustrating for anyone who comes across one, reports it but then witnesses it get even bigger and more dangerous as it didn’t quite reach a council’s threshold for repair.

“What’s just as bad is when a council provides no information whatsoever on how they decide which road defects warrant their attention and which don’t. In these cases, drivers going to the effort of reporting potholes have no idea at all whether anything will ever happen.

“There’s no doubting councils are in an incredibly difficult position when it comes to looking after their roads. Despite the promise of more funds from central government, the fact remains that the desperate state of many of the country’s highways is something that has been many years in the making, and there are no quick fixes. 

“We believe there is an urgent need for Whitehall to provide fresh guidance to councils to bring about consistency when it comes to prioritising potholes and taking action to fix them. We’re also concerned about reports that some councils are refusing compensation claims from drivers who have damaged their cars from potholes, by stating they already have them scheduled for repair – even if that repair isn’t due for months.”

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