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Pothole problem laid bare as 700,000 complaints reported across the country

Complaining about the state of the roads is a national pastime - but has anyone stopped to think about the cost to small businesses of all those potholes? And how do you claim compensation if your vehicle has been damaged by one?

New figures obtained by the FSB lay bare the scale of the pothole problem in England for the first time.

Local authorities received 683,008 complaints about damaged road surfaces or potholes in the past year - that’s one complaint every 46 seconds, according to the data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

A significant number of those complaints are likely to have come from small business owners. 

“Potholes are a major concern for the nation’s small businesses,” says FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry. 

“Our members rely heavily on the local road network, with their staff, customers and trade deliveries, dependent on fast and efficient road networks.

“Poorly looked-after roads peppered with holes and cracks not only hamper their ability to do business, but lead to damaged vehicles, which are often vital assets to small firms often working without large capital reserves.”

If all the complaints related to a different pothole they would add up to a 28km hole - 15 times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Councils in the North East received the most complaints – 103,585, followed by Yorkshire and The Humber, with 92,010, the South Central region, with 87,907 and the South West with 80,675.

Greater London generated the second lowest number of complaints, 42,106, with South East, on 22,396, coming bottom of the league table, which suggests roads in the South-East of England are in better shape than elsewhere in the country, or their users are less likely to complain about them.

In total, almost £1bn was spent on road repairs in England in 2018/19, a figure similar to the previous year, according to the data. The number of complaints has also remained broadly static. 

“These figures show just how widespread the issue is and it’s clear that governments, both national and local, need to sit up and take notice,” says Mike Cherry. 

“Measures like more funding for local authorities and improving the coordination between authorities and utility companies, will go some way in helping ease the burden of this ever-growing issue.”

Politicians talk a good game about road repairs. 

In his final Budget as Chancellor, in October 2018, Philip Hammond promised an extra £420m to fix potholes in England.

But a report by the Commons Transport Committee in July this year found cash-strapped councils were raiding highways budgets to pay for core services.

The MPs’ committee urged proper long-term funding for local road repairs and an end to “quick-fixes” - a call supported by the FSB. 

The FSB is also calling for companies that dig up roads to guarantee they remain pothole-free for five years, something that was proposed by the department for transport in March this year, but has yet to be put into action.

At the moment, utility companies only guarantee road repairs for two years.

The FSB is also demanding a simple system for reporting potholes locally - and for submitting claims for damage to vehicles.

More than £1.9m was paid out in compensation to road users last year - but only 24% of pothole claims were successful, with an average payout of £257, according to the FSB’s data. 

How to make a claim:

  1. Make a note of exactly where the offending pothole is and take photos showing its width and depth
  2. Find out who is responsible for maintaining the road - it could be your local authority, Highways England, Transport Scotland, Traffic Wales, the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland or Transport for London - and report the pothole to them
  3. Keep all receipts for repair work to your vehicle - or get a quote for it
  4. Make a claim to the authority that you reported the pothole to. Include in your letter or email a full description of the incident, the location, time and date, contact details of any witnesses, photos or sketches of the scene, photos of damage to the vehicle and copies of repair work receipts - and why you think they were responsible
  5. The authority will only pay out if it has failed in its duty to maintain the road
  6. But you can negotiate with them if they make you an offer - you could also claim for transport costs incurred while your vehicle was out of action and loss of earnings 
  7. You can normally appeal against a rejected claim
  8. Alternatively, you can take it to the small claims court - but seek legal advice first