Drivers pay the price as councils fail to fix pothole epidemic

A car passes a pothole in road
A car passes a pothole in road

Drivers are footing the bill for Britain’s crumbling roads as pothole damage payouts from struggling councils dry up.

The president of the AA has said motorists are being forced to turn to insurers to cover the cost of vehicle damage caused by potholes, as local authorities increasingly fail to compensate motorists.

With breakdown callouts for pothole damage at a five-year high, car insurance premiums have in turn risen to record levels, the AA’s Edmund King said.

Drivers can make claims with local authorities for damage from potholes, however, new analysis of official figures released last month shows funding has dropped significantly.

Between 2019 and 2023, funds paid to compensate drivers for damage inflicted by potholes fell by more than half, from £3.7m to £1.7m across 85 councils, according to data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

This is in spite of claims rising 70pc between 2021 and 2023.

“A lot of local authorities are clamping down on the money they used to pay for damage. Councils have tightened up the criteria whereby they give out compensation.

“Certainly what we’ve seen is that there’s been a massive increase in incidents on the roads. Drivers are damaging two wheels, two tyres and steering, which could be £5,000.

“We’ve had the most pothole-related damage for the last five years,” which has “not helped premiums”, Mr King said.

He added that the amount of money being paid out by councils in compensation claims “varies enormously” and that “some councils are literally giving out next to nothing”.

Local authorities across the country – who have said they are behind on £14bn in road improvements – have said their finances are at breaking point. Since 2020, Birmingham, Nottingham, Woking and four other councils have issued section 114 notices, which effectively declares they can no longer afford to go on.

Last year the AA was called out to 632,000 incidents where drivers had damaged tyres, wheels, steering or suspension as a result of hitting potholes.

It equated to more than £474m in damage to vehicles, according to the motoring association’s research.

But just a fraction was paid out in compensation claims by councils in that time, with substantial variations in quantities of payments made by individual authorities.

This is despite above-inflation council tax increases which mean the vast majority of councils will charge more than £2,000 for a typical band D home in 2024-25.

Warrington Borough Council, for example, received 50 claims for pothole damage last year and only paid out £80.10.

Walsall, Torbay, Knowsley and Waltham Forest councils paid out nothing that year despite each receiving more than a dozen claims.

Surrey County Council paid out the most last year for compensation from pothole damage and gave almost £237,000 to successful claimants.

The average cost of car insurance now stands at a record £627, having risen by more than a third since the end of 2022, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Thefts of keyless entry vehicles, along with price inflation for parts and labour, are also commonly cited as having increased costs, alongside pothole damage.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents the local authorities in England and Wales, said: “Each claim for compensation sent to a council is robustly judged on its own merits and in accordance to the law.

“Instead of paying for costly compensation claims, councils much prefer to use their budgets to keep our roads in a good condition, in turn reducing the risk of damage to vehicles and personal injuries.

“However, this has become increasingly challenging, with an estimated and growing £14bn backlog of repairs to bring all local roads across the country up to scratch.

He added: “All councils need greater, longer-term funding certainty so that they can invest in preventative treatments that help avoid more dangerous potholes developing in the first place.”


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