Skip to main content

Public Disorder: Uninsured Claimants

Volume 733: debated on Monday 19 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that police authorities speedily and fairly settle claims outstanding under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, particularly for uninsured claimants.

My Lords, the Government are committed to dealing with all claims where property was damaged in the August disturbances. We are working closely with the affected police authorities and the insurance industry to ensure that the processes that they have in place allow claims to be made as quickly as possible.

My Lords, thousands of households and businesses are still waiting for compensation from police authorities after all this time. Some £3,500 has been paid out, of the £200 million or so worth of claims, and many valid business interruption claims are being contested. Does the Minister agree, especially in the light of the Prime Minister’s assurances on 11 August, that this is quite unacceptable? Will the Home Office issue firm guidance to police authorities to speed up the processing of claims and stop them hiding behind technicalities—for instance, that in some areas the disturbances did not constitute a riot for the purposes of the Act?

My Lords, I accept what my noble friend says, that things have not been as speedy as they should have been. We estimate that some 5,000 claims have been received, totalling in excess of £250 million, but we must remember that a lot of those claims will include claims for loss that are not covered by the Act. We have to ensure that we do not pay out for things that the Government are not responsible for. We will try to deal with—as the noble Lord implied in his original Question—the uninsured claimants first of all, but obviously we want to deal with the insured claimants as well. That is why I stress that we are working with both the police authorities and the insurance companies to ensure that that is the case.

My Lords, I am grateful to hear that the Minister has offered a figure. I put down a Written Question to ask him how many payments had been made under the Riot (Damages) Act, and the Answer was three sentences long. It told me that applications for compensation were made directly to police authorities, and:

“There is no requirement for them to provide this information to the Home Office. Therefore, the precise figures of payments that have already been made to claimants will be held locally by each police authority”.—[Official Report, 8/12/11; col. WA198.]

In other words, go and ask them. Does the Minister accept that the Government in fact bear responsibility for sorting this problem out? If so, will he be willing to report to the House what progress is being made?

My Lords, I gave an estimate of the number of claims but I cannot give an absolute figure. That is why I stress that it is only an estimate that 5,000 have been made. One has to accept that a lot of those claims will not be valid; in certain areas there have been many more claims than one would expect. I make no further comment on that.

I will certainly keep the House fully informed about how we are getting on with these matters. We want to ensure that all claims are settled as quickly and fairly as possible, and that when we are dealing with public money it is handed out in the appropriate manner.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Riot (Damages) Act, which was passed in 1886 for a different society from the one that we have today, is anachronistic, outdated and unfair? The police service has had its budget cut by 20 per cent this year. How can it afford up to £200 million in compensation? The Act has the connotation of blame. If we are looking for blame for the riots, should we look at the economic policies of successive Governments in failing to provide employment?

May I draw a picture of a single mother, living on the 13th floor of a block of council flats with three teenage children? She starts work at 5 am every morning as a cleaner, does another job in the afternoon and comes home to hungry and cold children, yet we blame her for not looking after them. They have never, in their whole lives, had a new pair of trainers but now have an opportunity. As far as the money is concerned—

What about the £200 million or so that the Government will spend on appointing political commissars in the police service next year?

My Lords, the noble Lord is making another point. I accept his remark that the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 is possibly past its sell-by date. For example, it does not cover motor vehicles, which had not been invented at that time. However, the Government have made it clear that we stand ready to provide financial support to police authorities and we do not see any of them losing out as a result of these claims.

My Lords, it is four months since the riots occurred and very strong assurances were given by the Government that businesses would be helped. The official report and other reports indicate that very few businesses have received the help that they expected to be given—and that we expected them to be given. I asked in September whether the Government would monitor the situation. Will the Minister give tangible figures and update us on the situation?

My Lords, the Government have been monitoring the situation. My honourable friend the Minister for Policing has met representatives from the West Midlands police force, the Greater London Authority, the Met and the Greater Manchester police force. He has met the insurance companies, Kit Malthouse and a vast number of people. We are doing these things as quickly as possible. We extended the deadline by which people could make claims by 42 days. We have the whole subject under review, as I made clear in response to another question, and we will respond to those reviews in due course.

My Lords, the Minister has been asked for figures three times. He keeps saying that the situation is under review and is being monitored. It is not monitoring that is required—it is action. Will he do something about it?

My Lords, I totally reject that. I have made it clear that we estimate that there have been something of the order of 5,000 claims. We estimate that those claims total some £200 million to £250 million. That does not mean that all those claims are valid. Before we pay out public money, we want to make sure that they are valid and we will do that properly. We want to make sure that the uninsured are paid first and then deal with those who were insured, making sure that the insurance companies are repaid. That is why we are talking to the ABI.

My Lords, I give the fullest support to the Minister’s indication that the Government regard the Act as having passed its sell-by date. Taking the point of the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, may I ask the Government to look very carefully into the whole philosophy of whether it is right, in the 21st century, that claims should be made against police authorities, as opposed to a more general claim, perhaps against the Government? I also make the point that the definition of “persons” in the Act is deeply flawed, as are the definitions of “property”. The Act should also be brought up to date to allow claims in respect of motor vehicles.

The noble Lord is right to quote me as saying that the Act is beyond its sell-by date and needs to be reviewed. That is why it is being reviewed. I do not believe that the police forces will lose out. That is why we have made it clear that the Home Office is ready to support them. We will make sure that that is the case where appropriate. However, the important thing is that we look at the result of those reviews of the Act and then make the appropriate decisions.