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Martin Searle Solicitors

Legal Expenses Insurance

Helping employees use legal expenses cover for costs involved in bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal

What is Legal Expenses Insurance?

For most people, the cost of bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal can be prohibitively expensive. This can deter people from standing up for their legal rights in cases involving discrimination in the workplace, unfair dismissal, equal pay and other workplace disputes. However, Legal Expenses Insurance can help you cover the costs involved in pursuing your case, usually from the point that it becomes necessary to issue a claim. This can include Employment Tribunal Fees, solicitors’ costs, expert’s fees such as a medical report, and barrister’s fees.

How can I check if I have Legal Expenses Insurance?

We advise all employees who are in dispute with their employer to check whether they or anybody in their family has Legal Expenses Insurance. Some policies provide legal expenses cover for all people in the household.

Policies can be attached to:

  • Household Contents Insurance
  • Household Buildings Insurance
  • Bank Accounts
  • Vehicle or Life Insurance (but check it covers employment claims)

If you are in doubt, you should ask your insurer/bank for further information. If you have insurance, you should request a claim form.

What type of Employment Law problem does my Legal Expenses Insurance cover?

This depends on the policy, but normally Legal Expenses Insurance would cover all claims that you can bring against your employer in an Employment Tribunal – such as:

Your policy is unlikely to cover the cost of advice in the early stages of your dispute, for example, during any disciplinary/capability or grievance process. It is still important to check the terms of your policy as these do vary. If you are in doubt you should speak to your insurer, or ask us to do so.

What do I need to do to get my Legal Expenses Insurer to indemnify my costs?

Initially you need to contact your insurer to notify them of your claim. It is a condition of most policies that you notify them of any claims as early as possible and so you should not delay. Some policies will exclude the insured if more than 30 days have passed since you became aware of a possible claim.

Each insurer has its own procedure that it will expect you to follow. Usually this will involve completing a form in which you are asked to provide a summary of your employment law problems together with supporting evidence such as grievances or disciplinary letters. If you have already instructed your solicitor of choice who is not on your insurer’s authorised panel of solicitors, they are likely to ask for them to provide their assessment as to your likelihood of succeeding i.e. 51% or higher.

Your insurer will check that your type of employment claim is covered under the terms of your policy and then assess your case. The insurer will be looking to see that your case has a 51% or higher chance of winning and that the costs of funding your case is not a lot more than the amount of compensation you are likely to receive.

Your insurer will then advise you that your legal expenses claim has been approved. Unless you have told your insurer that you wish to use a freedom of choice solicitor, the insurer will direct you to one of their “Panel Solicitors” who could be located anywhere in the country. This is likely to be a firm that has agreed to work for much lower rates, often by using paralegals, who do not have legal qualifications or the necessary experience to deal with your case, particularly if it is complex. Panel Firms rarely meet with their clients and they often have a very high volume of work. This is why, in our experience, many clients are often left feeling ignored or disappointed by Panel Firms.

For clients who have a disability and need to see their solicitor face-to-face, this can be a big problem. However, insurers are providers of service and as such are governed by equality laws that require them to make “reasonable adjustments” when providing services to their insured. For example, letting them have a freedom of choice solicitor in their locality so they can have a face to face interview. You may also require an employment law solicitor who is a specialist in disability discrimination in order to properly deal with your case.

Some insurers will also require you to pay an excess (e.g. £100 or £250), depending on the terms of your policy, before any work can commence.

Alternatively, if your insurer decides that your claim is not strong enough, the person dealing with your case should explain why and advise what you can do to challenge and appeal their decision. You should ask for their decision in writing.

What is a “freedom of choice” solicitor?

A freedom of choice solicitor is one that you choose, rather than a panel solicitor that your insurer chooses. It therefore means you can have control over who handles your case. You can choose an employment law solicitor who is local, who you already know and trust, who is a specialist in their field, and who you are confident will protect your rights.

Do I have to use the Panel Solicitor recommended by my insurer?

No. Once your claim has been approved and it becomes necessary to issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal, the Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations 1990 give you the right to freedom of choice. This allows you to instruct any solicitor and have your insurer meet most if not all of their costs. However, you do need to inform your insurer that you wish to exercise that right and tell them which employment law solicitor you wish to instruct. You must have authorisation from your insurer for your freedom of choice solicitor to be paid for running your case.

What if I am dissatisfied with how the Panel Solicitor is handling my case?

All firms of solicitors have to give you the right to complain about the service you have received, but for most clients the most important thing is finding a specialist employment lawyer who can get things back on track: someone who will listen to you, take the time to talk to you about your case, protect your rights, and fight to get the best result.

Because freedom of choice applies throughout a case, you are entitled to change solicitors at any point and have your insurer meet their costs. Neither your insurer nor a Panel Firm can prevent you from changing your solicitor.

Can Martin Searle Solicitors help me access funding from my legal expenses insurer after the event?

Yes. Where clients wish to instruct us under freedom of choice we are happy to deal with the insurer directly in order to minimise stress and inconvenience for our clients. This is particularly where they are refusing to allow you a freedom of choice solicitor without explaining your legal right to a freedom of choice solicitor. In most cases we would do this after an initial assessment of your case, or after the conclusion of your grievance or disciplinary process.

Why choose Martin Searle Solicitors as my freedom of choice solicitor?

We have experience of dealing with the majority of legal expenses insurers. We have also helped numerous clients with strong cases to successfully challenge a refusal by their insurer to provide legal expenses cover – for example, by explaining why our client has a good case or why the insurer has interpreted the policy incorrectly. We also have a proven track record of winning cases and working closely with legal expenses insurers so that their insured gets a good result., Our experience assisting a large law firm to set up a Legal Expenses Insurance Employment Law Unit for a national insurer means we are well-versed in the issues that concern both insurers and solicitors.

If I choose to instruct Martin Searle as my freedom of choice solicitor, will my insurer meet all of your costs?

Some insurers agree to meet our full charging rates, but not all. If your insurer offers a sensible rate then we are likely to accept this.

If your insurer is only willing to offer a very low hourly rate then we may have to discuss other options. In all cases we will ensure that your fees are affordable by giving you the choice of which member of our employment team you want to handle your case, as we all have different charging rates.

We might ask you to “top-up” the difference, particularly in cases where the policy will only cover some of your claims but not others.

In cases that we consider you have a strong chance of winning, we can offer you a Conditional Fee Agreement so that you only pay the shortfall in our fees if you win.

We will carefully explain the alternatives so that you can make an informed decision.

Contact us today on 01273 609911, or email info@ms-solicitors.co.uk to find out more.

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