The government says that the long-discussed scheme will allow around 3,000 mesothelioma victims across the UK who are unable to claim compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer or employers’ liability insurer to receive approximately £300m in payments in the first 10 years.
Although the majority of people are able to claim compensation through the employers’ liability insurance held by their employer, more than 300 mesothelioma sufferers a year currently lose out on compensation because they are unable to trace a liable employer or employers’ liability insurer.
This new scheme, funded by insurers, is in addition to the £200m the insurance industry already pays each year in compensating mesothelioma sufferers.
However, campaigners said that it represents a heavily watered down version of what had been earlier proposed and were critical that it covered only mesothelioma and not any other asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis.
The announcement comes more than two years after a consultation into establishing an Employers Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB), since when thousands of people have died from mesothelioma. And it will be another two years before the scheme is set up because it requires legislation.
The ELIB scheme proposed by the previous Labour government was intended to ensure that all asbestos victims would be compensated regardless of whether their employer’s insurer could be traced.
Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union Ucatt said: “The government has dressed up a watered down, inferior scheme as good news. The long delay in announcing this scheme means that hundreds of asbestos victims have died without receiving compensation.”
He added: “Yet again the government is assisting their friends in the insurance industry rather than acting in the best interests of asbestos victims. All asbestos victims have a right to compensation.”
The Health & Safety Executive estimates that there are 2,000 deaths a year from asbestos related lung cancer, while a further 400 people a year die from asbestosis. An additional 500 people a year are diagnosed with the seriously life limiting, condition pleural thickening.
ABI director general Otto Thoresen insisted that insurers were on the side of sufferers. "Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer and the insurance industry, working with government, is determined to do all it can to ensure that sufferers get the support they need as soon as possible,” he said. “This package of measures will deliver help to claimants much faster, including to those who would otherwise go un-compensated.
"We appreciate the urgency of this disease, and while implementation depends on legislation being put in place, we hope that the scheme will be up and running and the first payments made by July 2014."
The British Safety Council gave the announcement a 'cautious welcome'. Neal Stone, its director of policy and communications, said: “It has been of serious concern to the British Safety Council and its members that an estimated 300 mesothelioma sufferers a year lose out on compensation because of the inability to trace the relevant insurer. HSE reported that an estimated 2,321 deaths attributable to mesothelioma occurred in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available. We have still to see the peak in mesothelioma cases, which is expected around 2016. Up until the DWP and ABI announcement, 300 men and women, an estimated one-in-eight of mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed in any given year, go uncompensated.
"However, claimants suffering from asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis are excluded, and this continues to be a real worry.”
The scheme will come into force subject to primary legislation and membership will be compulsory for all employers’ liability insurers. Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma from 25 July 2012 will be eligible to make a claim.