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Pothole Claims

How to claim for pothole damage

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Marcel and Rebecca | Edited by Steve N

Updated 9 Jul 2018


Anyone who's ever hit a pothole will have heard that horrible sudden clunk. Your car's been crocked and you know it's going to cost.

Figures published in October 2016 claimed it would take 14 years to clear the backlog of potholes, but whoever controls the road has a legal duty to maintain it to a fit standard. If they don't, and your car's damaged, they should pay for repairs. That's the law – our straightforward, step-by-step guide shows you how to use it.

Let us know your tips. The subject of potholes claims is a large and complex one. Please give us your feedback on this guide, suggest improvements and tell us how your claim went in the Pothole claims forum thread.

While every effort's been made to ensure this article's accuracy, it doesn't constitute legal advice. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk.

'I claimed £498 - a wonderful feeling of winning justice'

Potholes are a plague on Britain's roads. The Local Government Association claimed in 2016 that it would take 14 years to clear the backlog of potholes, despite councils filling in almost two million per year, and the Government has pledged £6 billion to try and tackle the problem by 2021.

Whenever we ask you what you'd like us to campaign on, huge swathes of you say 'potholes, potholes, potholes'. So we wrote this 10,000-word (you don't need to read it all) guide to help.

If you've hit a divot or a crack and your car's damaged, the process of filing a claim can seem daunting, and many drivers don't know where to start. But if the authority which was responsible for maintaining the road failed to do so properly, it is possible to successfully claim for repairs in full.

Of course, you can only claim if the authority was at fault. Potholes are inevitable, particularly in winter, so the key question is whether it could and should have fixed it before your car went clunk.

Remember, in reporting a pothole, you're being a good citizen. And if the authority was negligent and didn't do the checks it should have, claiming for repairs can help put pressure on the powers that be to keep the road safe and in good condition. Equally though, this is taxpayers' money and in the short term claims can put local councils under real pressure, so you'll need to decide for yourself what the right thing to do is.

It can be a long slog, but don't be put off - we've seen many successes:

Two mangled alloys and one tyre, £735 worth of damage. Claim now settled for the full amount after initially being thrown out. Thank you MSE for the pothole claim guidelines.

- Mrchewie

I hit a pothole on the M20 motorway on my journey home from work and suffered a cut to a tyre. I claimed from the Highways Agency and got £530.

- David

I went through the small claims and Bucks County Council threw in the towel 48 hours before the hearing. They paid me everything (£400) and the pothole hadn't been reported before.

- Richard

Our claim eventually went to the small claims court. It increased to £498 with court fees, interest and compensation. It requires persistence and a lot of time. But it can result in a wonderful feeling of winning justice.

- Tom

Surprise surprise my original claim was rejected by the local authority. Not to be deterred I sought the maintenance history through the FOI route which seemed to infer that problems in the street had not been actioned over the three months prior to my event.

Once I reported the damage and indicated my intention to claim, the repairs were completed the day after. The process has taken nearly three months but my claim will now be paid in full as a goodwill gesture although no liability is being accepted for the damage. I can live with that though! The moral - don't be deterred.

- Forbecs

The best advice is persevere. The forms sent to me were phrased to make me give up before I started. However I was so angry I completed every step (hurdle) and eventually I was compensated for the replacement wheel and tyre I required.

- Ca55ie

Before you start, keep in mind that it isn't always easy to claim for pothole damage. While there are successes, there are sadly many instances where claims are rejected too.

Pothole claims - the need-to-knows

Before you get into actually making a claim, here are the big questions answered.

A pothole is a road defect that causes an immediate risk or hazard

Potholes are usually caused by water seeping down into the road surface, then freezing and creating gaps that widen up into gaping holes in the road.

According to many councils, in order to count as a pothole the hole must be at least 40mm deep - about the height of two 20p coins. If the one you hit wasn't that deep you can still claim, but it could be tougher to get anything back.

If your car's been damaged by a problem in the road which isn't a pothole - if you've hit a piece of loose pavement, for instance - you may still be able to claim by following the step-by-step system below. But your chances depend on how the road defect is categorised by the authority responsible.

You need to prove it was the pothole wot dunnit

Hitting a pothole normally causes damage to a car's tyres, wheels or axles, and you'll often know immediately that something's wrong (you'll probably hear it).

In order to claim for the damage, you'll have to prove the pothole caused it - that the repairs you're having to shell out for were specifically caused by your impact with the pothole. Your mechanic should be able to put this in writing for you.

If your vehicle already had a problem, and the pothole made it worse, you can still claim but you won’t get the full repair costs back.

Check who's responsible - then report it!

As soon as you've hit a pothole, make sure you warn other drivers. Whether or not you intend to claim, calling it in will help to keep the roads safe (and if you do intend to make a claim further down the line, it's important to be able to show you did your civic duty.)

Even if you don't think you'll qualify for compensation after hitting a pothole, ALWAYS report it. We need to put pressure on the authorities to fix these problems. That's not just about making it costly when they don't fix 'em, it's making sure they know about problems on their roads.

Different authorities are responsible for maintaining certain types of road, so you'll need to check who to contact. The table below shows who's in charge of what. To find out what road you're on - first check the road name on a map or sat nav and if you're still stuck you can contact Highways England for help.

When you call up the relevant company, ask if claim forms can be sent to you, or if you can download them online.

How to report a pothole
Area and type of road Who's responsible How to report the pothole
Eng, Scot, Wal - Local roads, B roads, smaller A roads* Local council Call the council or report via its website. For Eng & Wal you can find the council by postcode on the website and for Scot check the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities site
Eng - Motorways, trunk roads (major A roads)* Highways England Email or call 0300 123 5000 (open 24/7)
Greater London - Roads listed as 'red routes' Transport for London Report it on the Transport for London website or call 0343 222 1234
NE Scotland, NW Scotland - Motorways, A roads Bear Scotland
(maintenance firm for Scottish Govt)
Report it on Bear Scotland's website or call 0800 028 1414
SW Scotland - Motorways, A roads Scotland Transerv (maintenance firm for Scottish Govt) Report it online at Scotland Transerv or call 0800 028 1414
SE Scotland - Motorways, A roads Amey (maintenance firm for Scottish Govt) Report it online at Amey or call 0800 521 660
Wales - Motorways, trunk roads Traffic Wales Email or call 0300 123 1213
N Ireland - All roads DfI Roads(formerly TransportNI) Call 028 9054 0540 or report it on the NIdirect website
Eng, NI, Scot, Wal - Private roads, eg, car parks Private firms Contact the company directly
*Broadly speaking local councils take care of local A roads and Highways England look after major A roads, although it's impossible to say categorically and exceptions apply. Check Highways England's network map to see the roads it's responsible for.

You can claim if your vehicle's damaged and the authority responsible for the road failed to properly maintain it

Britain's highway authorities and agencies are legally obliged to maintain roads to a safe standard. That includes fixing potholes.

If your vehicle's been damaged and you believe the authorities haven't maintained the roads properly, how much you can claim for generally depends on the extent of the damage to your vehicle. Typically, car damage claims tend to be around £300-£500. Some drivers who've claimed have successfully recouped the entire amount - in other cases, they've won part of the cost.

Some have also successfully claimed for injury resulting from a pothole collision, but this guide focuses only on vehicle damage claims. If you intend to claim for personal injury, you'll need to seek legal advice.

There's no explicit sentence in law which covers claiming for potholes, but there are laws which force authorities to keep the roads safe - and that's what you'll be claiming the authorities have failed to do.

For most pothole claims there's a step-by-step procedure you can follow. But if your claim's not successful, ultimately the last resort is to go to the small claims court - except in Northern Ireland, where there is an ombudsman.

Quick questions

How long will claiming for pothole damage take?

What are my chances of success?

How far back can you claim?

What about private roads?

Pothole pranged your bike? The information in this guide isn't just for motorists. Although we've generally assumed you'll be claiming for damage to a car, if you hit a pothole while on a bike the same rules and processes apply.

If you've hit a pothole, consider telling your insurer

Although this guide is about claiming for pothole damage from the authority responsible, you also need to consider claiming on your car insurance. And even if you don't claim on your insurance (or you only have third-party cover), you'll need to decide whether to notify your insurer.

  • Should I claim on my insurance?

    There's no doubt that claiming on your car insurance is an easier process than claiming compensation from those responsible for maintaining the road (and doesn't rely on you claiming from the taxpayer, either). But you need to factor in the cost of the damage, your excess and the effect on any no-claims bonus you have.

    Bear in mind you can't claim twice - if you claim on your car insurance, there's no point claiming compensation as well. (If you did, then according to a legal technicality anything you got from the responsible authority would be paid to your insurer.)

  • Should I notify my insurer otherwise?

    Insurers tell us drivers should notify them of pothole damage immediately, regardless of whether they intend to claim. You'll then usually have around five or six months before you have to file an insurance claim, which gives you time to see if a claim to the responsible authority will work first.

    Be aware if you do notify your insurer, there might be a risk in some cases of your premium being affected for the following year, even if you don't actually claim. This is impossible to quantify (plus big insurers have told us claiming WOULDN'T affect next year's premium), but it's something you should consider.

Still not had your question answered? Let us know in the Pothole claims forum discussion and we'll try to add it to this section.

Is it right to claim? Martin's view...

Our usual campaigns are about reclaiming money you’ve wrongly paid - not damages, which this guide is about. A compensation culture is dangerous and we need be wary of this, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill.

Yet the authorities have a legal duty to maintain roads so they're safe for everyone to use. If they don't and your car's damaged, they should help pay the costs to repair it.

It’s important to understand you can only claim anyway if the authority responsible for the road has been negligent. So if a cannon ball drops off a truck, causing a pothole which two minutes later damages your car, you’ve no right to claim - there’s nothing the authorities could’ve done to prevent that.

Even if you are eligible to claim, you have a decision to make. Some argue that compensation deprives authorities of much-needed cash to fix roads - others that the more people pursue their rights, the more incentive there is for authorities to improve the roads to avoid dealing with claims.

After huge user demand to know pothole rights, we’ve delivered this guide for our users, we hope in a responsible, non-militant, easy-to-use way. You must decide whether to use them.

Damage from a pothole? Gather evidence

The first thing to do is start collecting the proof, pronto. No matter which authority you're claiming from, your overall goal's the same - to gather enough evidence to prove the authority was negligent.

If safe, take photos and measure the pothole's depth

If you've a tape measure handy, and if it's safe (please don't try this on a motorway), measure the depth of the pothole and note it down. If it's 40mm or more deep (roughly the height of two 20p coins) then bingo - it's definitely worth pursuing. If it's less, it's still worth continuing, but you might not get the full cost of repairs back. Measure the width too.

Take pictures straightaway, or as quickly as it's safe to do it. If you don't have a camera when it happens, you can always come back. Things to photograph include:

Get as much evidence as you can
  • Close-ups of the pothole. We don't advocate stopping traffic, but it's vital to act quickly. A handful of pictures showing the width and depth of the pothole should be OK. If you can, measure the depth with a tape measure, then take a picture with the tape measure inside it.

    If that's not possible, get any standard-sized object (a newspaper could do the job), put it inside the pothole, and mark the depth on it to give you a metric.

  • The pothole's position in the road. Take some mid-range pictures of its position in the road from different angles, showing which lane it's in. Check the pothole's visible in these.

  • Check road signs
  • Road signs. Get more pictures of the immediate stretch of road including road signs. Photographs of nearby landmarks such as schools and prominent buildings will help pinpoint the spot.

  • Your car. You'll need to show the damage done, so take several good quality pictures of anything that's broken, severed, dented or scratched.

Be careful! You don't have the right to walk on the motorway...

Take notes and gather the paperwork

Any documentary evidence will boost your case, so it's important to collect as much supporting paperwork together as possible. Here are some of the things to consider (although don't worry if you don't have something for every point):

  • The pothole's exact position: Make a note of its location - eg, where it sits in the road, which lane it's in (if that applies) and how many metres it is from the pavement. Note any landmarks on either side of the road. If there's a prominent building nearby (say a church or a school), ensure you get its name.
  • The accident itself: Keep a record of the moment you hit the pothole. Write down the exact time and date, and try to describe the conditions - the weather, traffic and so on. Be as accurate as you can.
  • Did anyone see you hit the pothole? If they did, and if it's possible to contact them, ask if they'll put something in writing for you. For example, if it was impossible to see the pothole on approach, or if it was clearly a hazard, ask if they'll confirm this. This may help your claim further down the line.
  • A map-like sketch: If you can, do a quick sketch of the pothole, the stretch of road it's on and a couple of buildings or signs either side. Don't worry too much about the quality, it doesn't have to be Van Gogh.

If possible, try to make any notes as soon as possible after the event, and date them. If the worst comes to the worst and you have to go to court, 'contemporaneous' notes (ie, those written at the time something happened) are generally considered more reliable.

Keep a record of the damage to your car

This bit's crucial. Remember, you're not claiming for general compensation as such, you're reclaiming the cost of repairs to your car.

When you get your car looked at and then repaired, keep a copy of your bill and make sure it's clearly itemised and dated. If possible, ask the mechanic to put it in writing that the damage was caused by a pothole - if you can, it'll really help later on.

Try a fast claim first

By now you should know which authority's responsible for the pothole you hit, and you should have reported it (if not, go back and do so now). You should also have gathered a variety of evidence.

Now it's time to claim. The simplest and fastest way of doing this is by using the authority's own claims process - normally it just means filling in a form. Not every authority lets you do this, and if they do, it's not always successful. But it's always worth trying first.

Forumite reduceditem was successful doing this, posting:

I claimed from Glasgow City Council for pothole damage that required both coil springs to be replaced. They sent me out a form that I completed and returned with photos.

Several weeks later they sent me a letter simply asking me to send them my garage repair bill. Some time after that I got my cheque.

Here's how to file a fast claim – and remember, if you're not sure who to claim from and report the pothole to, check here:

  • Councils in England, Wales or Scotland. Some councils in England, Wales and Scotland will send you a form to complete when you report a pothole. If not, you can check whether your council allows fast claims by looking on its website. A full list of council websites can be found at If your council doesn't have a fast claims system, skip to How to make a full claim.
  • Transport for London: You should be sent a form after reporting the pothole - if it doesn't arrive, call 0343 222 1234. There are separate forms for drivers and cyclists. Once you've sent it off, TfL's insurance provider Gallagher Bassett will investigate your claim. There's no official timeframe for you to get a response though.

  • Highways England: Again, you should be sent a form when reporting the pothole. If not, call 0300 123 5000. The form should arrive in 15 days. After you send it in, the agency has 90 days to respond.

  • Major roads in Scotland: All the agencies that look after motorways and A roads in Scotland should send you a form when you report a pothole - if not, call either Bear Scotland on 0800 028 1414, Scotland Transerv on 0800 028 1414 or Amey on 0800 521 660. The form should arrive in two working days. Bear Scotland says responses generally take 28 days - Scotland Transerv give no firm timeframe.

  • Traffic Wales: If you asked for a form when reporting the pothole, you should have been sent an information pack and claim form - if you didn't or it hasn't arrived, call 0300 123 1213.

  • DfI Roads (business unit that manages and maintains Northern Ireland's transport network): You can download the form directly from the NIdirect website.

  • Private roads: Claiming for pothole damage on a private road generally works in a similar way, but it's a slightly different process.

Submitting a fast claim

The advantage in submitting a fast claim if you can is that it's just that - fast. The only thing you have to do is fill in the form you were sent by the authority and send it off, along with any evidence they request. However, it's helpful at this stage to include any additional evidence you have to boost your case.

Use this checklist to remember what evidence to include

To strengthen your claim, we've also created a short template letter to send alongside the form, which briefly outlines your case and makes it clear that if you don't receive compensation for the damage to your car, you're ready to take it further. Although you don’t have to send this, it'll show the authority you’ve done your homework and are prepared to take it on.

FREE template letter. Download a short letter to make your fast claim faster.

Hurrah - the claim's submitted

After you've sent the form off, it may take a while to hear back. When you do, one of the following three things will happen:

You win and get full costs back - victory!

If this happens, congratulations! Your claim's finished.

You get a partial offer.

Be prepared to compromise - it saves time and hassle. If the authority doesn't offer all the money for the repairs, just a chunk of it, it's worth understanding that taking this further is going to take time and there's no guarantee of success.

Is it offering you enough, and is it worth the time and effort of chasing for the full amount? You may want to reply and say: "I think you should give me a little bit more" to see if it'll give you a better offer. If you're still not satisfied, move on to How to make a full claim.

Your claim is rejected.

There's a fair chance that after you've submitted a fast claim, it'll be turned down. If so:

Don't be put off: this is quite common. It's a lot easier for organisations to reject people now - even those who will succeed at the next stage.

If you're rejected, the authority may well quote part of Section 58 of the Highways Act in its rejection letter. That says:

"This requires that a court shall have regard to whether the highway authority knew or could reasonably be expected to know, that the condition of the part of the highway to which the action relates was likely to cause danger to users of the highway."

It may sound convincing, but don't give up automatically. Even if the authority/agency was unaware of the pothole because it wasn't reported, you still have a chance. That's because you may still be able to prove the road wasn't maintained properly. The next section shows you how to do that.

How to make a full claim

If you weren't able to make a fast claim - or you did, and it was rejected - the next step is to make a full claim. Be warned though, it's not a simple process. We'll take you through it step by step and give you template letters to make it as straightforward as possible.

In a nutshell, you're going to do a Freedom of Information request to find out if the authority was inspecting and repairing the road as often as it was meant to. If you can prove it wasn't, you can argue it should pay for your repairs.

Often the authority will pay up if you've proved its negligence, but in a few cases you might need to go to the small claims court.

Step 1: Get the road repair policy and inspection history

This is all about digging into the detail to help give your claim a bigger chance of success.

You're going to use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to get information from the authority responsible for maintaining the road the pothole was on. This Act enables you to request data from public sector bodies and they have to give it to you by law.

Don't worry - it sounds complicated but it's actually quite simple. Plus, we've created a template letter you can use below, so we've already done the hard bit for you.

Your FOI request will get two bits of information from the authority:

  • Its inspection logs that show how it maintained the road that damaged your vehicle.

  • Its policy for inspecting and repairing its roads. (In many cases, this will be the same as a national policy, but sometimes it differs so it's best to check).

Sometimes the authority may say you don't need an FOI request to get this info, but it's easier to do one all the same. Using an FOI request means the authority legally has to respond within 20 working days. The system's not perfect - sometimes it takes longer anyway - but most people find that using the FOI Act's the easiest way of making sure your request isn't lost in the system.

How to make your FOI request

The simplest way of submitting an FOI request is to email the authority - technically, you don't have to use any special form of words, just say you're making an FOI request and ask them your questions. To save you the hassle though we've put together a template letter for you to send - just fill in your details and send it off.

Warning: While FOI requests are free across most of the UK, it's worth noting organisations in Scotland can charge a fee of up to 10% if they think it'll cost them more than £100 to track down the information you need.

If this affects you, they'll have to tell you what it'll cost first - then it's up to you to decide if it's worth it as there's no guarantee your claim will be successful. For more details see the Scottish Information Commissioner's website.

If you do decide to send in an FOI request, use our template below.

FREE template letter. Download our FOI request for councils letter to send off.

Although in theory you can send your request to anyone at the authority and they should pass it on to be dealt with, in practice it's best to contact the FOI department directly. This should be listed on the authority's website - if not, call it up and ask.

The authority has 20 working days to respond to your request. Usually, you'll get a response before the 20 days is up. If you don't, send a reminder on the 20th day. If they still don't play ball, complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.

Be mindful of the impact of FOI requests, which can put real pressure on councils. Only submit one if you couldn't use a fast claim.

Step 2: Look at how the road was maintained

Once you've got the response to your FOI request, you'll need to go through the information they've sent back with a fine toothed-comb. Be warned, this is NOT a five-minute job, so take a seat and make yourself a cuppa.

The first thing to check is the inspection logs, which should tell you how often the road you came a cropper on was inspected and repaired. Here are the key things you're looking for:

How often were inspections done, and how were they done? Don't just look at the frequency of inspections. Check the following:

  • How were they carried out - by foot or in a van?
  • If it was in a van, how fast was the van travelling? Was this too fast to see a pothole?
  • Was there just one driver or a driver and an inspector?
  • Did the road have a history of problems? If so, were inspections done more frequently?
  • If the authority also had to do safety patrols, how were these carried out, and how frequent were they?

If the pothole had already been reported, what action was taken?

  • How did the authority define the risk created by the pothole? How was it categorised?
  • If it was known about, how long did it take to fix the pothole?
  • If repairs were made, did it fix the pothole so that it was no longer a hazard?
  • If no repairs were made, how long had the authority known about it before you hit it?

Step 3: Check if the authority followed its own policy - and if that policy met national standards

When the authority responds it should send out its road maintenance policy. There are two things you need to check here: first, what its own policy is for inspecting and repairing roads, and second, whether this meets national standards.

The idea here is to see if the authority was negligent. If it didn't inspect the road your pothole was on as often as it should have, or didn't repair it as quickly as it should have, you've got a decent case. Sit down with the road maintenance policy and inspection logs in front of you and go through them line by line, matching up how they compare.

If you believe you have a case, you'll need to build an argument. You need to see if there are any discrepancies between the authority's maintenance policy and what it actually did. The authority may have a justification for some discrepancies, but the more you can find, the better your chance of success. Here are the key things to look out for:

Claiming from a council?

Claiming from Highways England?

Claiming from Traffic Wales?

Claiming from Bear Scotland, Amey and Scotland Transerv?

Claiming from Northern Ireland's Department for Infrastructure (DfI)?

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