Well known for his larger-than-life personality, captured on BBC documentary series No Win, No Fee, Claims Standards Council chairman Andrew Twambley talks to Ralph Savage about the challenges facing the sector's newest trade body
Following a long day's meetings in consultation with the vast array of parties interested in the new claims regime, newly appointed Claims Standards Council chairman Andrew Twambley explains that despite running a successful personal injury practice - Amelans, based in Manchester - this position is taking up three-quarters of his working life currently.
"My role as chairman is taking up 75% of my time because we are at a transitional stage where we are trying to get up and running as a trade body. We need to be proactive and train ourselves as a trade body rather than a collection of individual businesses," he explains. "There's a lot going on, so we've got to be on top of the news and attending meetings at the Department of Constitutional Affairs and internally at the CSC. Coupled with this is reading and commenting on the issues of the day and it's taking up a lot of time."
Of course, for a number of months during 2004 and 2005, a BBC camera crew was focusing its attention on Amelans itself. The five-part documentary series had the result, Mr Twambley says, of thawing the usually frosty reception personal injury lawyers and claims management companies receive. "Prior to the show, there was no real personality leader in the personal injury world," he says. "What the programme did was centre on a firm of personal injury solicitors and it did it quite well by making human beings out of people who do this kind of work."
He adds: "It made a big difference to my business, of course, and the greatest effect was in terms of internet traffic, with hits going up about 10 times and it has continued to rise. We [Mr Twambley and fellow Amelans partner, Martin Cockx] became personalities and I don't mean this in a show-off sense - there hadn't been anyone with a high profile since Claims Direct and that was damaging to the industry."
Almost two years on, the greatest outside influence on Mr Twambley's time is the DCA regulatory consultative group, which meets as often as twice a month to thrash out the details of impending claims management regulation under the Compensation Act.
"The purpose of the RCG is to guide the regulator from the Compensation Act, through to enforcement of the Act," he explains. "So what the regulator has decided to do is cut out the whole process of consultation and invited the main stakeholders from the industry so they can contribute directly towards the drafting and formation of the documents and procedures. The CSC is seen as an important part of that group on the basis that its members will be regulated."
Given that virtually all of the largest and most established industry trade bodies are represented on the RCG (see box), it becomes clear what the CSC is up against and why its previous plan to become the regulator itself was fatally flawed. "The CSC was set up to be the regulator but it was never really destined to be so. It wasn't set up with the right people and has had to become a trade body," admits Mr Twambley. "There was no one there to represent legitimate claims management companies. The transition between those two approaches has been pretty seamless though."
He continues: "All we are doing now is tidying up the paper work, making sure it is a trade body rather than a company applying to be a regulator."
Lack of resources
Of course, operating the CSC requires resources, which in comparison to its nearest ideological neighbour, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, it has very little of. "Apil has been going since 1991 and has 5000 members," Mr Twambley asserts. "More importantly, it has 16 permanent staff - the CSC has none. There are the executives and me, so I can't delegate jobs to staff and I've got to do most of it myself. There is the secretary and the treasurer who attend meetings on the CSC's behalf, however, as I couldn't physically go to two or three meetings a week in London."
So why is he doing a job that he is charged with for the next three years in an unpopular sector, which only leaves about 10 hours a week to concentrate on his own business? "The Compensation Act is the future of my business as a personal injury solicitor. To become an influence in it you need to adopt a stance that people will listen to," argues Mr Twambley.
He adds to his earlier point that in the absence of any higher profile names from the industry following the collapse of giants like Claims Direct and The Accident Group, the fact he is one of the few players with a public profile made him a fairly obvious choice: "I was encouraged to do it by the current members of the CSC and by some people I know at the DCA. I suppose my public profile on television is a lot to do with it as well. I have also been involved with the Civil Justice Council, so I've become known to various stakeholders who thought I would be the best man for the job."
A lot is expected of industry trade bodies in terms of lobbying but the CSC's main focus - at least until February 2007 - will revolve around helping its 140 plus member companies to successfully navigate the pre-regulatory maze.
"The existing committee of the CSC is made up of influential stakeholders in the business - they have some influence and power. If we can become a lobbying group, we should be able to help the members. So far, becoming involved in the RCG has helped the members so they know what's going on. We can assist them through the regulatory process, which is going to be intense between the end of November and the last day in February," he says.
As far as becoming a regulated industry is concerned, if Mr Twambley's comments are representative of the majority of his peers, enforcement cannot come too soon. It is ironic to say the least, considering the uproar Financial Services Authority regulation of the general insurance broking sector caused. However, the CSC's message is not one of a reluctance to be policed, and appears to be seen as offering the opportunity to legitimise hundreds of companies and demonising unscrupulous operators at the same time - a sort of innocence by association. "If we can protect the general public from rogue traders, that's what we want to do," says Mr Twambley.
"The Staffordshire trading standards department has been chosen by the DCA as its enforcer. It has proven its worth as a tight enforcement unit in the area of money laundering, for example. That was one of its plus points when the job went out to tender. The DCA decided it had the right business structure to go onto a completely separate business - claims management - and it can seamlessly move into that. From what I've seen, it is doing a fantastic job already."
He continues: "The claims industry has a dirty image. That dirty image has been informed by two things: the decline of Claims Direct and TAG and the shady tactics they adopted and, secondly, by newspapers such as The Daily Mail, which seems to have a vendetta against the claims management industry and its perception of 'the compensation culture'. That newspaper prints a story once every three days about how bad the claims industry is and how local schools don't go on swimming trips any more."
Surely the CSC is not going to attempt to tackle the cultural ideals of one the UK's biggest selling newspapers? "I can never win that battle," admits Mr Twambley, "but what I can do is demonstrate to properly interested groups - such as the Citizens' Advice and Which? - that we are doing a good job by weeding out the dirty end of the claims market. We will show how we are working with the regulator and Trading Standards to make sure people who are at the dirty end don't get authorised and, if they continue into the industry, that becomes a criminal offence and they are liable to go to prison for up to two years."
Of course, no regulatory regime can function without robust legislation to back it up. The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 has consistently been amended as the regime grows and develops but it has never been branded a flawed piece of law. The Compensation Act, however, has already been described by industry commentators as "a quick and dirty piece of legislation" (Post, 28 September, p13). Mark Boleat himself, the DCA's appointed claims regulator, said - while not criticising the new law - that he "knows of no other regulatory system that has been introduced at this speed".
Again, Mr Twambley is nothing if not optimistic about the way forward. "The Compensation Act was rushed through but nobody cut corners. There is some political weight in Tony Blair's office," says Mr Twambley, almost certainly referring to the well-known influence of Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer in Downing Street. "They are keen on this issue and it's not a bad thing."
There is one aspect of the legislation the CSC chairman will be fighting, however, and it suggests the promise of some interesting battles ahead. "I am not sure where the apology provision came from," he says. "About two years ago Norwich Union came out with a statement something like 'let's get rid of lawyers and compensation and just offer an apology and a box of chocolates'. Suddenly it came back into the Compensation Bill. It's not a bad thing, an apology, but it doesn't serve any purpose."
He adds: "If insurers think they are simply going to offer an apology without paying compensation to people who deserve it, they have got another think coming. I'm sure they'll try it but should people be diverted from independent legal advice by the offer of an apology? Insurers will try anything so they can settle claims quickly and cheaply on behalf of shareholders."
The regulatory consultative group's members include the Claims Standards Council, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Law Society, the Association of British Insurers, the Financial Services Authority, the Office of Fair Trading, the Citizens Advice, Which?, the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Trades Union Congress, the Legal Expense Insurers Group and the Financial Services Ombudsman.
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