How to claim against the council for pothole damage

Learn how to claim and get reimbursed for pothole damage.

How to claim against the council for pothole damage
9 min read
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Here's what you need to know

✔️  British roads are clearly suffering from a lot of potholes and sometimes they can damage your car.

✔️  Thankfully, you can submit a claim for the damage and get money back.

✔️  However, the process is lengthly and you may get rejected in the end.

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

When this happens, you may be tempted to take your car to the garage and leave it there and submit an insurance claim but this may not be the best option.

Instead, you might be better off writing to your local council and making a claim for the damage.

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

Here's how to go about claiming compensation due to a road problem. First things first...

What is the definition of a pothole?

A pothole is a large, pit-like hole in the road which is at least 40mm (or roughly 1 and a half inches) deep and 30m 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.

This is caused by poor quality construction work, road defectsvehicle 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.

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, then you may be able to claim compensation.

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

Unsure who's responsible for the pothole damage to your car? Well, you may need to do a bit of research first.

Pothole damage is typically the responsibility of local authorities. This is because they are required to maintain roads within their jurisdiction. It’s worth bearing in mind that 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 insurance if debris damaged your car, or you pay for the repairs yourself.

What to do if a pothole damages your car

To get the best chance of a successful claim and get reimbursed for the damage to your car you'll have to make sure to do the following:

1. Inspect the damage

Even hitting a pothole at low speed could cause damage to your wheels, broken suspension springs, shock absorbers or suspension. At high speed, 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

The local authority needs pictures of the pothole, and it's very important that you can measure it and show them how big it is.

If you don't have a measuring tape, put something like a shoe or a bag next to it so they 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 porthole location and size to your local authority

If the pothole has caused damage to your vehicle, it's like that it will cause damage to others too. Regardless of whether you're filing a claim or not, you should try to report it to the council.

All councils let you report potholes on their websites. The more evidence you have, the better, when you report a pothole.

  • 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

The mechanic should give you a written report of what caused the damage. You need this to make a claim for the pothole damage from your council or local authority.

It’s also worth getting 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, you should definitely fix your car and then continue with the claim.

Keep copies of all quotes, invoices and receipts to support your claim. Especially 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, following 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.

Highway and 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 reclaim your rejected claim if you think it was unfair.

Your other options are:

  • Accept the rejection.
  • Seek legal advice and file a small claims court case
  • Contact your insurance company 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 report the pothole and have evidence that the damage to your car was caused by it.

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 - that's a lot of 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 get your car repaired for you. This type of damages 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

Position Council or Road Authority Total Claims Claims successful Share of claims paid out

Total Payout

(£)
1 Highways England  4,781 2,707 56.62% 865,254.75 
2 Lincolnshire County Council 8,810 4,313 48.96% 764,588.00 
3 Surrey County Council 6,380 893 14.00% 608,284.00 
4 Lancashire County Council 4,016 1,903 47.39% 520,745.26 
5 Staffordshire County Council 5,659 1,502 26.54% 517,367.00 
6 Stoke-on-Trent City Council 1,430 892 62.38% 507,055.78 
7 Oxfordshire County Council 3,578 1,512 41.11% 378,770.00 
8 Cambridgeshire County Council 2,666 942 35.33% 354,931.56 
9 Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 804 75 9.33% 350,500.00 
10 Dumfries and Galloway Council 1,568 585 37.31% 324,111.39 
11 Wiltshire Council 1,594 1,381 86.64% 302,911.10 
12 Shropshire Council 2,412 811 33.62% 282,454.13 
13 Dudley Metropolitan Borough 463 238 51.40% 262,862.49 
14 West Northamptonshire Council* 2,995 770 25.71% 234,961.87 
15 Derbyshire County Council 2,099 772 36.78% 222,264.60 
16 Hampshire County Council 6,046 732 12.11% 219,284.22 
17 Northumberland County Council 1,409 663 47.05% 196,450.00 
18 Warwickshire County Council 1.153 515 44.67% 189,853.00 
19 Flintshire County Council 600 248 41.33% 177,205.00 
20 Devon County Council 2,734 720 26.34% 170,069.00 

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