Motor legal protection

We explain what motor legal expenses insurance does and doesn't cover, and when you might need it.

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Having your car badly damaged or written off in an accident that wasn’t your fault is bad enough. At least, though, you know that repairing or replacing it should be covered by the at-fault driver’s car insurance. But what if any injuries you incur in that same car accident result in you spending several weeks off work, potentially losing out on income? If you need to take another driver to court to claim back costs that aren’t covered by standard car insurance, motor legal protection can help you pay the legal expenses.

Motor legal protection, or motor legal expenses insurance, covers your legal costs if you are involved in any legal action following an accident, such as any cases that go to court.

It’s often sold as part of a car insurance policy. Some policies include it as standard; with others, it’s an optional extra.

If an accident wasn’t your fault, the other driver’s policy should pay out for repairs to your car and any medical costs you have to pay. Failing this (if a driver’s uninsured, for example) and depending on the level of cover you have, your own policy will often step in.

But unfortunately, it’s not always that simple – and a standard car insurance policy may not cover every single cost you incur. Sometimes, accident-related claims end up in court. Motor legal expenses insurance covers your legal fees if, for example:

  • An accident wasn’t your fault and you need to take the other driver to court to recover any costs that aren’t covered by standard car insurance. This might also be, for example, because the other driver disputes that the accident was their fault, or they were uninsured. In essence, it allows you to fight to claim costs that aren’t automatically covered.
  • Another driver makes a claim against you following an accident where you dispute your responsibility.

Unlike car insurance itself, which is a legal requirement for all drivers on UK roads, there’s no rule stating you have to have motor legal protection. So it’s down to you to weigh up the cost of taking it out versus the risk of incurring high legal costs if you need it and don’t have it.

You’re probably less likely to need to claim on motor legal protection than to claim on your car insurance in the first place, or to claim on more frequently used add-ons such as breakdown cover. But you may think it’s worth having for peace of mind.

Motor legal protection covers you for legal expenses relating to claims that can’t be resolved directly with your or another driver’s insurer and might involve going for court. Such claims might include, for example:

  • Medical costs if you and your passengers are injured
  • Loss of earnings if an accident means you can’t work
  • Damage to your car if you don’t have fully comprehensive cover
  • Other costs, such as your car insurance excess or travel costs if you can’t use your car

Your legal expenses cover should pay for things like the cost of hiring a solicitor and any court fees. Like most insurance, there will be cover limits. In the case of motor legal expenses it’s typically £100,000.

Firstly, and the clue is in the name here, motor legal protection will only cover your legal expenses. It won’t pay out directly for any losses you’re claiming for, or any losses that an injured party successfully claims from you. All it does mean is that you won’t be left out of pocket for legal expenses you pay for legal claims you make or that are made against you.

This leads nicely on to the next crucial point: motor legal protection doesn’t always pay out. Read the small print of most policies and you’ll find that insurers often won’t cover your legal costs if:

  1. They think you’re unlikely to win your case. For a claim to be accepted, your insurer must think you have a reasonable chance of winning your case. And they can change their mind part-way through the case if new evidence comes to light. In this case they might stop funding your lawyer.
  2. Too much time has passed. This won’t always be cut-and-dried. It’s often hard to know at the time of an incident exactly how it might impact you financially (for loss of income, for example). But check your policy for any fixed time limits on making a claim so you don’t miss the boat.
  3. Legal fees are too high relative to your claim. Paying £2,000 in legal fees to win back a maximum of £500, for example, is unlikely to be deemed worthwhile.

Bear in mind too that you often don’t get full choice of which lawyer you use. You may have to work with one appointed by your insurer, to start with at least, or find one that’s willing to take the insurer’s (probably low) hourly rate.

Your legal expenses claim is also likely to be rejected if one of the factors that would invalidate your main policy is at play. These can include, for example, if you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or driving recklessly.

As well as motor legal expenses cover, which covers events arising from an incident involving an insured vehicle, you can also get legal protection as part of a home insurance policy. As with car insurance, it’s often sold as an optional extra.

Home insurance legal protection usually covers legal expenses relating to your home, employment or personal injury.

This is one of those features where its inclusion varies by insurer and by policy. It’s typically more likely to be included as standard with pricier comprehensive car insurance policies, but some third party or third party, fire and theft policies might include it too. Opt for the cheapest possible cover, though, and it’s less likely to be included. If so, you’ll need to pay extra for an add-on.

If you can’t remember whether your policy includes motor legal protection as standard, or whether you bought it as an optional extra, check your policy documents. They should state whether you have it pretty clearly.

If not, or if you can’t lay your hands on your documents right now, get in touch with your insurer to ask directly.

If it’s not included as standard, you can expect to pay in the region of £20 to £30 to add motor legal protection to your car insurance policy as an optional extra.

It’s more common to buy it as an add-on to car or home cover, but some insurers sell legal expenses policies independently of car and home insurance policies. It’s often similarly priced.

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

Motor legal expenses insurance isn’t hugely expensive, and there’s not that much variation between insurers, so ways to cut the cost are limited.

You could try narrowing down your shortlist of car insurers only to those that include motor legal protection as standard. However, this won’t necessarily save you money as car insurance policies that include lots of extra features tend to be pricier in the first place.

It’s definitely worth checking if you have any form of legal expenses cover with another insurance policy, such as your home insurance or via your employer. But bear in mind what’s covered under these policies may be different to what’s covered with a motor insurance add-on.

Beyond that, the only real way to save on motor legal expenses insurance is not to have it at all. To decide that, you’ll need to balance the cost against the potential benefits.

You’ll need to initiate a claim for motor legal expenses in the same way as any other claim.

  1. Gather together the information you need, including your policy number, car registration details and any supporting evidence for your claim. This might include photos of damage to your car or evidence of lost income.
  2. Contact your insurer via its usual claims process. This may be by phone or online. Depending on when you make the legal expenses claim, you may well have already informed your insurer about the original incident and claimed for damage to your car, for example. You’ll need to answer any additional questions, explain the situation and provide evidence requested.
  3. Assuming your claim is approved, you’ll be assigned a solicitor to handle your case, usually from a panel of lawyers the insurer deals with. They’ll also liaise with the other party’s insurer as required.

It’s very unlikely. If you were at fault in an accident, and this has been acknowledged and recorded, legal expenses insurance is unlikely to cover you for any legal costs you incur. If nothing else, remember that motor legal protection policies usually only pay out if the insurer thinks you have a decent chance of winning.

If the cost and limitations of motor legal protection put you off, there are a few alternatives to cover any potential legal fees.

  • Self-insuring. This may not sound like the most fun reason to start a savings account, but if you at least put aside the equivalent cost of the insurance, over time it may built up and pay for at least some of your fees if needed. If you don’t need it, you’ve got extra in savings.
  • Legal aid. If you can’t afford legal costs, this can help to meet the cost of legal advice and representation in some civil cases. But it won’t help in every case (personal injury claims aren’t covered, for example) and getting it will depend on your financial circumstances. You can check whether you might be entitled to legal aid on the gov.uk website.
  • After-the-event insurance. This is more expensive than legal expenses insurance as it is bought when you’ve already decided to take or defend a legal action. It typically provides cover against paying the other side’s costs if you are unsuccessful.

Pros

  • Could save you thousands in legal fees
  • Provides access to legal advice to help with claims
  • It’s relatively cheap and may be included in some car insurance policies

Cons

  • It may not be expensive, but it’s not free
  • If your insurer doesn’t think you have a reasonable chance of winning, at any point it may decline or stop cover
  • If likely legal costs outweigh the amount you’re making a legal claim for, your insurer may refuse your request

Bottom line

Motor legal protection isn’t that expensive and could prove valuable if you need to claim losses you’ve incurred that aren’t covered by standard car insurance. But it has limitations. If your chosen car insurance policy already includes it, that’s a nice bonus. Otherwise, you’ll need to weigh up the cost of buying it as an optional extra against the pros and cons of having the cover.

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