• The Road Accident Fund says Covid-19 and lockdown compounded its financial troubles.
• RAF says its offices closed completely during lockdown.
• The backlog can take up to two years to catch up on, says RAF.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24
A massive backlog of Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims and delays in processing and payment of claims has been compounded by financial troubles and the Covid-19 lockdown.
According to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, says that for road accident victims and their families, while the RAF claims process may be subject to long delays, it remains the only route for road accident victims to follow to secure compensation.
Closure of RAF offices during lockdown
Under levels five and four of the lockdown, the RAF offices closed completely. At the same time, non-urgent court cases were postponed.
Bizarrely, Haslam says that the RAF was not declared an essential service - despite the essential role it plays for road accident victims and their families. "Its closure during this period contributed to an already massive backlog," she says.
The RAF offices closed again from 23 December, under the amended lockdown level three. Initially, they were set to reopen after the holiday period, on 14 January. This period was again extended to 1 February 2021.
Backlog of RAF claims
In a written statement in response to questions in Parliament, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said as many as 46 147 RAF claims have been waiting to be settled for more than five years. Of those, 6933 have been waiting for more than ten years.
He reported that the total amount claimed is nearly R50 billion.
He added that he doesn't know how much it will take to settle the claims or when the claims will be finalised and that the date for which the outstanding claims will finally be settled is unknown at this time due to the multitude of variables.
RAF's 'new model' and 2021 commitment to settle claims
Early in 2021, RAF CEO Collins Letsoalo reasserted the RAF's commitment to settling long-overdue claims.
He stated: "We have set ourselves to settle these claims within 120 days, and that's exactly what we are doing. We are starting with the oldest claims."
Letsoalo added that the RAF hopes to rectify the backlog within two years.
Occupying much media attention in 2020 was the RAF's decision to stop using panel attorneys. Haslam says that the RAF asserted that this was to reduce its own legal costs and to focus on settling outstanding claims without unnecessary legal challenges.
Court investigation of the RAF and calls for government intervention
A critical court case is currently underway in the Gauteng High Court, with judges being asked to solve the RAF's problems. Haslam says that some lawyers are calling for the Government to intervene in a bid to avoid the RAF's collapse. She adds that they are urging the court to compel government ministers to:
- file financial reports every three months setting out how claims are to be repaid;
- present a copy of the RAF's financial report to Parliament;
- provide a report setting out how the Treasury plans to ensure there's enough money for the RAF to pay claimants.
The best way forward if you have an RAF claim in 2021
Haslam cites some of the critical reasons for road accident victims not to claim without legal representation, including:
- too often, the RAF processes direct claims hastily and without due diligence;
- unrepresented claims are often underpaid, with claimants accepting unfairly low settlement offers;
- the RAF may unfairly reject a direct claim, leaving the claimant with no legal recourse.
Even with representation, the claims process is complex and time-consuming. However, Haslam says that an experienced attorney will help guide claimants through the steps in the claims process, including:
- gathering of evidence, including medical and police reports, any witness statements, details of medical costs, substantiation of loss of income and so on;
- submission of the proper RAF claim forms and issuing of legal documents within the prescribed time frames;
- gathering of expert medical testimony to support the claim;
- if no settlement offer is made within 120 days, issuing of the RAF with a summons and setting of a trial date;
- court proceedings;
- legal follow-up to secure awarded compensation.