A puddle of water inside a pothole on the road.

How to claim against the council for pothole damage

Learn how to claim and get reimbursed for pothole damage.
X min
  • British roads are often plagued with potholes and sometimes they can damage your car.
  • Thankfully, you can submit a claim for the damage and get your money back.
  • However, the process is lengthy, and you may get rejected.
  • Lincolnshire County Council has processed the most successful damage claims.

British roads are ridden with potholes, and unfortunately, one of these days, you may find yourself with a damaged car.

When this happens, you may be tempted to take your car to the garage, leave it there and submit a car insurance claim. But a better option might be to write to your local council and claim for the damage that way instead.

This will not only ensure that you get the maximum compensation for your pothole damage,it will also ensure that you get it as soon as possible.

Here's how to go about claiming compensation if you’ve hit a pothole…

What is the definition of a pothole?

A pothole is a large, pit-like hole in the road which is at least 4 cm (or roughly 1 and a half inches) deep and 30cm wide (or just under a foot).

If the hole is smaller it's probably a 'carriageway defect'. That's just a different name for the same thing.

Potholes are caused by poor quality construction work, road defects, vehicle collisions, and sometimes natural causes. Most roads in the UK have some degree of pothole damage, but some are much worse than others - take this 5 feet wide pothole in England, for example.

People gathered around a big pot hole filled with rain water on a quiet street.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance says there are 1.7 million potholes in the UK. That's a lot of potholes!

If your car is damaged as a result of pothole damage, you may be able to claim compensation.

Who is responsible for fixing potholes and the damage to your car?

Pothole damage is typically the responsibility of local authorities. This is because they are required to maintain roads within their jurisdiction. However, roads that cross several jurisdictions, such as motorways and A-roads, come under the charge of the following:

While you may be able to claim compensation for pothole damage, it's worth bearing in mind that you can't get any money back for damage to your car caused by debris.

You'll have to make a claim on your car insurance if debris has damaged your car, or you can pay for the repairs yourself.

What to do if a pothole damages your car

For the best chance of a successful claim and to get reimbursed for the damage to your car, be sure to follow the steps below:

1. Inspect the damage

Even hitting a pothole at low speeds could cause damage to your wheels, broken suspension springs, or damaged shock absorbers. At high speeds, the damage could be more severe and even cause an accident.

  • Pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so.
  • Look for any visible damage to your wheels and tyres.
  • Check for any vibrations while you're driving.
  • Check if your steering wheel doesn't centre properly
  • Check if the car pulls to one side.

If you notice any damage to your car's steering or tracking, don't ignore it! Get your car to a garage or tyre specialist as soon as you can. It might be costly to fix, but it's much more dangerous to ignore the problem.

2. Gather evidence of the damage and the pothole

Your local authority will require pictures of the pothole so that they can assess how big it is.

If you can measure the pothole, even better, but if not, put something like a shoe or a bag next to it when you take a photo so your council can see the size and understand the scale.

Try to collect your photographic evidence on the day you ran over the pothole if you can. If you decide to come back later, the council may have since repaired the pothole and your claim will be very difficult to make.

You should also make a note of the following:

  • The date and time of the incident.
  • Any witnesses and their contact details.
  • The location of the pothole on the road.
  • The damage incurred to your car.
  • If you go to the garage and find more damage, be sure to write it down.

3. Report the pothole location and size to your local authority

If the pothole has caused damage to your vehicle, it's likely that it will cause damage to others too.

Regardless of whether you're filing a claim or not, you should still report it to the local council, and the more evidence you can provide, the better.

  • Let your local county, city or borough council know so they can fix the hole.
  • In England and Wales, you can find the right authority using this postcode checker.
  • Motorways and A roads in England are managed by Highways England.
  • In Wales, roads are managed by Traffic Wales.
  • You can report potholes in Scotland online to My Gov Scotland.
  • Report potholes in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.

4. Get repair quotes and consider fixing the car

When you take your car to a garage, they should give you a written report of what caused the damage. You’ll need this to make a claim for the pothole damage from your council or local authority.

It’s also worth getting repair quotes from at least two different garages. Keep a record of each one and go with the cheapest. Showing willingness to keep repair costs down could help your pothole claim. If the damage is severe, it’s important to fix your car and then continue with the claim.

Keep copies of all quotes, invoices and receipts to support your claim. This is particularly important if you want to avoid a hefty repair bill after getting your car checked.

Check the specific claims protocol of the authority as they may require you to provide certain information before making a claim.

To make your case as strong as possible, include the following:

  • A full description of the incident.
  • When and where it happened.
  • What you’ve done since to address the damage to your car.
  • Photographic evidence showing the pothole.
  • Witness details if any.
  • Confirmation of pothole damage from the mechanic.
  • Repair quotes from different garages.
  • Invoice or receipts for the repair of the damage if you have fixed your car.
  • Any other details that could help your claim.

Pothole compensation claims have limits, but if you can show that the pothole was the result of the local authority's negligence, you might have a case under Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980.

Can my pothole claim be rejected?

Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 provides councils with a statutory defence if they can show that reasonable care was taken to secure the road and it wasn’t dangerous to traffic.

Local councils can often defend themselves against claims if they can show that they didn't know about the pothole or that they had a system for maintaining and inspecting the road.

This system covers how often roads are inspected, the size of damage to be repaired and how quickly repairs should be carried out.

So, if your pothole claim is rejected, ask to see details of the council's road inspection reports to see if the council did follow it as they should have.

You can make an appeal if your claim is rejected and you think it was unfair.

Your other options are:

  • Accept the rejection.
  • Seek legal advice and file a small claims court case.
  • Claim on your car insurance policy.
  • Contact your car subscription service provider.

What are my chances of a successful claim?

You stand a fair chance of having your damage paid for, but it will take some time and there is no guarantee.

In April 2022, What Car? research showed that almost £13m was paid out in pothole compensation to 37,000 drivers.

The strength of your case and the evidence you have affects whether or not your claim will result in the council reimbursing you. Your claim should be accepted as long as you have reported the pothole and have evidence that the pothole caused the damage to your car.

Some claims could take months to resolve, so you might need to be patient.

How long will claiming for pothole damage take?

Every case is different and every council has a slightly different way of handling vehicle damage claims. It can be a lengthy, time-consuming process which can take as little as just a few weeks, but in other cases take more than six months.

Are potholes a big problem in the UK?

Britain's roads aren't great, that's no surprise. Potholes are a common and frustrating problem in the UK. They can often be caused by poorly installed or maintained pavements, or simply by the natural wearing away of the road surface.

In the 2020 Budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a £2.5bn pothole repair fund, with £500m to be shared out between local councils each year for half a decade. The government said that the fund will be enough to repair 10 million potholes.

What to do if my subscription car gets damaged by a pothole?

You should notify your car subscription provider immediately. They will be able to assess the damage, and advise on getting your car repaired for you. This type of damage will be covered by the maintenance and servicing part of your subscription agreement. Whether they pursue a claim is entirely up to them because they own the car.

Top 20 councils and road authorities per pothole compensation

Pos. Authority Total claims Successful claims Total payout (£)
1 Highways England 4,781 2,707 865,254
2 Lincolnshire County Council 8,810 4,313 764,588
3 Surrey County Council 6,380 893 608,284
4 Lancashire County Council 4,016 1,903 520,745
5 Staffordshire County Council 5,659 1,502 517,367
6 Stoke-on-Trent City Council 1,430 892 507,055
7 Oxfordshire County Council 3,578 1,512 378,770
8 Cambridgeshire County Council 2,666 942 354,931
9 Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 804 75 350,500
10 Dumfries and Galloway Council 1,568 585 324,111
11 Wiltshire Council 1,594 1,381 302,911
12 Shropshire Council 2,412 811 282,454
13 Dudley Metropolitan Borough 463 238 262,862
14 West Northamptonshire Council* 2,995 770 234,961
15 Derbyshire County Council 2,099 772 222,264
16 Hampshire County Council 6,046 732 219,284
17 Northumberland County Council 1,409 663 196,450
18 Warwickshire County Council 1.153 515 189,853
19 Flintshire County Council 600 248 177,205
20 Devon County Council 2,734 720 170,069

Source: FleetNews.co.uk

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