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8 Sep 2019

Three reasons you should report potholes

The number of potholes is on the increase - can reporting them really help?

The number of potholes being reported on Britain's roads is on the increase. We've found that road users are risking damage to their vehicle or bicycle, or even hurting themselves, while on the road.

Our research has discovered that potholes are plaguing Britain's roads and that repairs simply aren't keeping pace. We also found that reporting potholes is key. Both to show the true scale of the issue, and to ensure those affected are in with a chance of claiming compensation.

  • Just 28% of you have reported a pothole*

  • Reporting a pothole could increase the chance of claiming compensation after an accident

  • The number of potholes reported is increasing - by 52% in Scotland, 46% in England and 7% in Wales

  • It would cost £9.8bn to deal with the entire backlog of road repairs

Keep reading to find out more about the pothole issue, the reasons to report road defects, and who to report them to.

Hit a pothole? Find out how to report a pothole and claim compensation

Video: why you should report potholes

Britain's pothole problem in numbers

The figures on the map below, gathered as part of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, paint a shocking figure of Britain's pothole problem. These figures are just for main roads and motorways:

The numbers being reported on main roads and motorways across Britain increased between 2017 and 2018:

  • In Scotland the number reported rose by a whopping 52%, up to 16,645
  • England saw a 46% year-on-year increase, to 15,542
  • Wales had just 7% more reported, to 3,729

The increase in reporting could be down to apps and websites making it easier than ever to flag an issue with road surfaces.

But don't let the detract you from the sheer number being reported. Particularly since these figures are for fast roads, and each pothole could potential damage multiple vehicles.

When it comes to local roads, an FOI request from the RAC to 161 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland found that more than 0.5m potholes were reported.

These figures don't account for other road defects, such as cracks or raised manhole covers. For example, there were nearly 700,000 reports of road defects and potholes in 2018-19 in England alone, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

And none of these figures account for those that go unreported.

In Northern Ireland, the Department for Infrastructure is responsible for all public roads. There is no specific data that relates to potholes, but 311,124 road defects were reported across main and local roads between 2016 and 2018 (this data is not comparable to England, Wales and Scotland), according to FOI data.

Why should I report a pothole?

Importantly, the numbers cover those that have been reported. It's impossible to know how many go unreported, or the true scale of the issue.

We heard from people who felt reporting them would take too much time, or that it is pointless. But if more people reported them, it would be easier for those whose vehicles are damaged to claim. Plus it gets them repaired.

Here are three reasons why you should report potholes.

1. Compensation after a damage claim

We heard from people who had experienced costly and time-consuming damage to their cars as a result of hitting a pothole, including one Which? member who incurred a broken suspension strut on their car twice within a year.

Worryingly, a poor or defective road surface was also a contributory factor in 102 reported cycling accidents in Britain in 2017, representing an increase of more than 18% since 2015 (Department for Transport).

If your car or bike is damaged as a result of a poorly maintained road, then you can submit a claim for compensation from the body responsible for maintaining it - for example, the local council or Highways England. But your claim depends on whether the pothole has already been reported.

If the relevant highways agency or local authority wasn't aware of the pothole, or it can prove that reasonable care was taken to maintain and secure the road, then it will be very difficult for you to get compensation. We heard from several people who had a claim rejected because the council was not aware of the pothole.

If the local authority knew about the pothole and didn't repair it, or if it didn't follow road maintenance guidelines, you have a stronger chance of claiming compensation for damage and repairs.

2. Help get potholes repaired

Of those that told us they had reported a pothole:

  • 46% had to wait more than two weeks for it to be repaired
  • 30% of people reported that it took between one day and two weeks for it to be repaired
  • Just 2% saw a pothole repaired within a day.

One Which? member told us:

We know how frustrating it is to report a pothole that simply isn't repaired, and how helpless it can make you feel - one person said they felt there was 'no point in reporting, as they don't get fixed'.

While local councils have a duty to maintain roads, they can only fill a pothole if they know about it - to get it repaired, you must report it. There's no guarantee that the pothole will be fixed, but it should be investigated and possibly monitored.

Don't lose hope either. While walking, a Which? member of staff fell as a result of a pothole, sustaining injuries to her ankle, elbow and knee. After reporting it, the offending pothole was filled in within 24 hours.

3. Showing the true scale of the issue

In October 2018, former Chancellor Philip Hammond announced £420m funding for a highway maintenance pot to be used during the financial year to fix potholes - on top of an existing fund of close to £300m. The number of potholes repaired on roads maintained by Highways England duly increased by 62%.

But according to the body that represents road repairers, the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), this increase reflected reactive patching of potholes rather than longer-term repair, as the money had to be used in the six months before the end of the 2018-2019 budget year.

In the AIA's Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey (ALARM), it said there was a £9.8bn one-time cost to deal with the backlog of road repairs.

It may feel like the repair of our roadways has hit, quite literally, a bump in the road. The key, though, is to keep reporting potholes and other road defects when you spot them - it will show the true scale of the problem and allow councils to demonstrate where extra funding is desperately needed.

How do I report a pothole or submit a damage claim?

All councils allow you to report potholes via their websites. Include all the supporting evidence you can when reporting one. To find out which council maintains the road, you can enter the road name, town or postcode on the gov.uk website.

Alternatively, Cycling UK has a website and app called Fill That Hole, that allows you to identify the location of a pothole using Google Maps or via GPS if you download the free iPhone or Android app.

For potholes on motorways or A roads, you'll need to contact Highways England.

If you've hit a pothole, or had a pothole-related accident, then follow our steps to claim pothole damage compensation.

*(Survey of 1,051 Which? members, June 2019.)

Which? says

Harry Rose, Which? Magazine Editor, said:

'Britain's pothole plague is getting worse and it could take a decade to deal with the backlog of repairs on our roads - that's a major problem when motorists and cyclists are at risk of serious injury.

'Our advice is to always report a pothole to the council and push for compensation if your car or bicycle is damaged.'