A pothole is filled every 21 seconds in the UK. Yet it would take 14 years to get local roads back into a reasonable state.

If you’re like most motorists who are used to Britain’s crumbling roads, those statistics from the annual ALARM survey, by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), published in March, won’t surprise you. 

And the AA estimates that car repair bills caused by potholes are at least £1m per month. But motorists can attempt to recoup at least some of these costs. The ALARM survey findings suggest UK authorities paid out £7.3m in compensation to affected motorists in 2017.

So, if you find your car damaged by a pothole, here’s what you need to do to make a claim.

Safety first

Pull over and assess the damage if it’s safe for you to do so. If the damage was done on a motorway, pull onto the hard shoulder if you are able to do so safely. But remember it is against the law to walk on the motorway.

Gather evidence

Ensure you collect as much information as you can to support any pothole claim. As well as the exact location of the pothole, note down details such as the time of your incident, as well as weather and traffic conditions. 

If it is safe to do so, take photos immediately, or at least on the day the incident happened. These should show the pothole relative to the surrounding area, in order to give an idea of scale. Sketches may help to, if you have writing materials to hand. Most councils count a defect in the road as a pothole if it is at least 40mm deep.

And if there are any witnesses, ask them to put what they saw in writing. They may be as annoyed as you about the state of the road!

Report the pothole

Don’t let someone else suffer the same potentially expensive misfortune as you, and report the pothole as soon as you can.

Some councils even let you report a pothole online, and may have maps showing where potholes have already been reported. After all, it is in their interests to find and fix potholes to avoid having to pay out more to motorists.

To find out which council maintains the road, you can search on the Directgov website.

Tell your insurer

Even if you don’t intend to make an insurance claim – after all you can’t claim compensation from both the council and your insurer – notify them of pothole damage immediately.

If the damage wasn’t caused by a pothole, but by other debris on the road, you could make an insurance claim, as you won’t be able to seek compensation from elsewhere.

If you don’t plan to make a claim, get – and keep – several quotes to have the damage fixed. Or if repairs are need urgently, keep your receipts. Ask your mechanic to put it in writing that it was a pothole that caused the damage.

The AA reminds drivers that some damage might not be obvious straight away. It recommends after an encounter with a pothole to be wary of any vibrations, the steering wheel not centring properly or the car pulling to one side.  

How to make a claim from the council

Contact the authority responsible for the road to tell them what the damage was and why you think they are responsible. They’ll also want to know exactly where the damage took place and the date and time the damage was caused.

Most A-roads and motorways are managed by Highways England, while smaller roads are managed by local councils. You can find out who to contact here.

To claim compensation, check the procedure of the organisation in question. Some councils will send a form for you to fill in; others provide one online.

It’s not over yet

You may get paid the full amount, part of the cost of fixing your car, or nothing at all.

A majority of claims are turned down. Your chances are better if a pothole has been reported to the authorities, the implication being that they should have done something about it. 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 that it wasn’t dangerous to traffic.

To find out more how to protect you and your car on the roads, visit Solved.