Delay in dealing with pothole claims after roads take winter battering

A Northumberland County Council team carrying out repairs.
A Northumberland County Council team carrying out repairs.

Northumberland County Council has seen the number of insurance claims for pothole damage double in the past six months, leading to a backlog.

The issue was raised by Coun Steven Bridgett, who has been chasing the council on behalf of several of his constituents, but who believes ‘the problem is much bigger than the three residents who have raised claims in my division.’

And the council has admitted it has struggled to deal with all the claims in a timely manner following the severe impact of the Beast from the East on the road network earlier this year.

Motorists can claim from the council for repairs to their vehicles which have been damaged by potholes or other defects if the authority responsible for the road has been negligent.

However, they cannot be held liable for a defect they are not aware of – either because it has not been reported to them or has not been picked up by their own system of inspection and maintenance.

A county council spokesman said: “The Beast from the East caused significant damage to roads in Northumberland.

“Since March, we’ve received more than 450 insurance claims – double the amount received in the corresponding period last year.

“The majority of these have been fully investigated and are complete.

“Regrettably, a number of cases have been outstanding for longer than our published service standard and we are writing individually to the affected claimants to provide an update on progress and to apologise for the delay.

“We are working hard to clear all cases and have brought in additional resources to deal with the backlog and will advise claimants of the outcome as soon as their claims are investigated.”

Earlier this year, the figures started to reflect the toll the winter had taken on Northumberland’s roads with a major jump in the number of potholes and other defects reported during the spring.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act showed that the number of road defects reported by the public and through routine highway inspections were remarkably consistent in the previous two years – a total of 58,571 in 2016-17 and 58,240 in 2017-18.

But in the first two months of this financial year, there were more than 20,000 defects reported, with April (11,471) being the worst month going back to the start of 2016-17 and the only one to break 10,000.

Even the 9,390 reported in May was higher than any of the months during 2017-18 and all but one in 2016-17.

Other figures released via the FOI request revealed that the amount paid out by the county council to motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes actually hit a five-year low in 2017-18.

Between 2013-14 and last year, the general trend in terms of payouts by the local authority was downwards, the data showed.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service