Pothole damage: how to claim compensation from your local council

Updated on 14 February 2019

Roads have deteriorated across much of the UK since last year, say drivers. Here’s how to claim compensation if the poor condition of the UK's roads has damaged your vehicle.

Drivers say roads are getting worse

The state of UK roads has got worse since last year, according to a survey of drivers.

The AA polled 17,500 of its members and found that 42% of drivers rated residential streets as poor in March, up from a third at the same month last year. 

Scotland's roads scored particularly badly, with 51% of drivers complaining about potholes and other problems on residential streets, an increase on 2017.

The South East was not far behind on 44%.

Worryingly, main roads are also in a poor condition, according to 28% of drivers in the North East.

Out of the entire country, only London saw an improvement in how drivers viewed road conditions.  

Another measure of road conditions, the number of RAC call-outs triggered by pothole damage, almost doubled in the first three months of 2018.

Of the 244,000 call-outs over the quarter, a whopping 5,540 were pothole-related – up 2,841 from the end of last year.

Both the AA and the RAC are now calling upon the Government to ring-fence money from fuel duty for pothole repairs.

The good news is that motorists who have suffered from terrible road conditions may be able to get some cash. 

This guide explains how to claim compensation from your local council if your vehicle has been damaged by a pothole.

Why are the roads so bad?

First, a quick explainer as to why our roads are in such poor shape.

Potholes occur when water seeps down below a road surface and then freezes in the winter. This pushes up the asphalt and causes holes.

But it’s not just the weather that is causing such havoc. Other contributing factors are vastly increased traffic flow, which is putting pressure on roads of all sizes throughout the UK, and the constant digging up of our roads by utility companies.

When electricity and water companies perform repairs to their cables and pipes, they tend to simply patch up the road rather than resurfacing it, and this makes them more susceptible to damage.

With the vast profits that these companies make perhaps they should be forced to make proper repairs in future! 

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The importance of reporting potholes

In general, a hole in the road counts as a pothole if it’s more than 40mm deep. However, you should also report other dangerous road defects or smaller holes.

Local authorities have an obligation to pay out for damage caused by defects they should have maintained. However, they do have a get out clause: if a pothole hasn’t been reported, the authority doesn’t have to pay up.

Most authorities with responsibility for maintaining roads now have easy to use pothole reporting systems on their websites.

In general, in England, Wales and Scotland the local council will be responsible for B roads and small A roads, In England Highways England is in charge of bigger A roads and motorways, and Transport for London looks after 'red routes' in the capital.

In Wales motorways and trunk roads are cared for by Traffic Wales and over in Northern Ireland, TransportNI cares for all the roads.

In Scotland the responsibility differs depending what areas you are in. In the north west and north east it falls to Bear Scotland, in the south west it’s the Scotland Transerv and in the south east it’s Amey’s job.

So, if you spot a pothole, or swerve to avoid one, check which authority is responsible and report it.

The more drivers who report potholes, the better. If you hit one that someone else has reported, you’ll be thankful they did. In turn, you’ll be helping other drivers by reporting other potholes you encounter.

How to claim

Each council will have a specific procedure for compensation claims, so make sure you check your local council’s website for specific information. Remember, you can claim for damage to bikes and motorcycles as well as cars.

As a general rule of thumb, if you aim to follow the steps below you won’t go far wrong.

  • Take a photograph of the pothole and note down its rough size and depth as well as its precise location (make a sketch of the area if you can).
  • Report it to your council using the reporting procedure specified on your council’s website.
  • If the council has not repaired it within a reasonable time (some say around a week is enough time to give) then this should strengthen your case.
  • Consider submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the council or Highways Agency to find out as much as you can about the road and its maintenance history, as this could also strengthen your case.
  • Put all your complaints in writing and ensure that all contact with the council is done via letter or email (a phone call can always be denied). In your letter include: a full description of the accident, where and when it was (date and time), your photographs and your sketch plan of the area. Also include a copy of your repair bill for the damage caused and keep copies of all your letters!
  • Consider Twitter too. Tweeting will put pressure on your local council as its other followers are likely to see the tweet.
  • The free RAC Report Pothole app uses GPS to quickly identify where you are and can send a report to your local council automatically. You can send up to three photos of the pothole as well as signage problems, street light problems and more. It's available on iOS and Android.
  • If the council makes you an offer you should give it proper consideration even if you are not entirely happy. If you wish to fight on, your next option will be to take court action. Provided your claim is for under £10,000 (£5,00 in Scotland) you can go to Small Claims court. You won’t need a solicitor and you can issue proceedings online via their MoneyClaim Online system. 

Am I likely to get a pay-out?

It won’t be easy!

The council will vigorously defend itself under section 58 of the Highways Act (which basically states they just have to prove they have taken ‘reasonable’ care of the road).

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. While evidence suggests that the vast majority of claims are automatically turned down in the first instance, persistence is key.

If your claim is rejected and you think it’s unfair, you can ask to see details of the council's road inspection reports, and try to claim again. If you still don’t win, you can take your case to the small claims court.

If the damage is very expensive, contact your insurance company or seek legal advice.

Authorities currently pay out more than £30 million in compensation for potholes so it's worth your time.

Start a revolution

Each individual pothole costs on average around £53 to repair, but records show that a compensation pay-out can be anywhere up to £3,000. With councils paying out hundreds of thousands each year in compensation, why isn't the money being earmarked for repairing the roads instead?

If you are successful in your compensation claim, and are feeling particularly altruistic, you could consider returning your pay-out to the council on the proviso that they repair your neighbourhood roads. You will be a local hero!

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