Legal update - The Damages Claims Portal for councils

Friday 29 April 2022

Delivering a more efficient, fast and accessible service are the key drivers behind the court’s introduction of the Damages Claims Portal (DCP), which forms part of HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) goal to provide an integrated online digital service for resolving civil claims.

The aim of the DCP is to provide an end-to-end service from pre-action to enforcement, increasing efficiency and reducing claim processing times. However, it is too early to predict how the DCP will respond to technical challenges and what this will mean for councils and their response to claims.

While we welcome the move to try to improve efficiencies in the civil justice process, the system is immature, and the pace of change is a cause for concern. On 4 April 2022, the DCP became mandatory for all claimant legal representatives to register claims in certain instances (see more below), and the DCP will become mandatory for defendant legal representatives from 2 June 2022.

All parties must become familiar with the new arrangements now to avoid procedural sanctions.

What is the DCP?

The DCP is an online claims process to issue and serve proceedings, acknowledge a claim, file a defence and file directions questionnaires. Cases are then managed in the usual way under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998. The aim is for the whole claim to be run within the DCP eventually.

Which claims does it apply to?

The DCP applies to all damages only claims but is only available to legal representatives currently.

On 4 April 2022, the DCP became mandatory for all claimant legal representatives when dealing with claims which traditionally follow the Part 7 process in the county court, provided that:

  • The claimant is aged 18 or over, or if under 18 has a litigation friend.
  • The claimant is not a protected party.
  • The claim is not made under one of the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
  • The claimant does not have a civil restraint order (or similar order) in force against them.

What do councils need to know?

The process:

  • The claimant’s legal representative must register with MyHMCTS to secure access to the DCP before the claim is started.
  • The claim form must be completed via the DCP, and documentation must be uploaded and the required fee paid.
  • Once issued, the court will provide the claimant with the issued claim form via the DCP.
  • It is the claimant’s responsibility to notify the defendant through the DCP within the usual four-month time limit.
  • The defendant responds to the claim within the DCP and files its defence.

Salient points

The DCP is a self-service system, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so claims can be issued at any time on any day. Deadlines for acknowledgment of service and filing a defence remain 4pm on the relevant day.

The system provides online notifications which constitutes service. As such failure to notify the defendant within the four-month time limit results in the claim being dismissed automatically.

The court will not enter judgment for a claim not responded to in the DCP, so the claimant will need to apply for judgment. However, if a defendant fails to respond in six months and the claimant does not seek to enter judgment, the claim will be automatically dismissed.

Should parties not wish to instruct solicitors to accept service, they can request the claimant’s solicitor serve proceedings directly against the insurer or defendant. Such cases will still be issued via the DCP but then fall out to be served in the traditional way.

What do councils need to do?

In light of the new rules, councils should consider:

  • Liaising with their nominated legal representatives to ensure proceedings are directed through the DCP.
  • Agreeing a central point of contact for receipt of new proceedings with their legal advisors.
  • Informing claimants of the correct email address for the DCP of their nominated legal representatives.

Kathryn Oldfield, Partner (kathryn.oldfield@kennedyslaw.com) Caroline Elson, Senior Associate and Daniel Couldrey, Associate (daniel.couldrey@kennedyslaw.com) at Kennedys.

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