Victims of the fatal asbestos-induced cancer mesothelioma who cannot trace their former employer or an employers’ liability insurer will soon be able to apply for compensation worth an average of £123,000, following the introduction of a new compensation scheme.
The scheme, which opens on 14 April 2014, will compensate around 3,500 victims who developed the fatal cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos at work, or their dependents where the sufferer has died. The government estimates that, over the 10-year life of the scheme – which will be funded by a levy on employers’ liability insurers – victims and their families will receive around £308m in compensation and payments towards the legal costs of applying for payouts.
Work and pensions minister Mike Penning said: “This will end years of injustice for mesothelioma victims and their families – who have had to endure this terrible disease with little hope of any compensation from the insurance industry.
“We have made it an absolute priority to bring in the scheme as soon as legislation will allow, so I am pleased to announce that victims will be able to apply for payments from next month [April 2014].”
Under the scheme, sufferers will receive average payouts of around £123,000, which represents 80% of the average civil compensation secured by mesothelioma sufferers who succeed in tracing their employer’s insurer. Successful applicants will also receive an extra £7,000 towards the legal costs of applying for payouts under the scheme, though where direct applications are made, the sufferer will retain the £7,000.
However, the scheme is only open to sufferers diagnosed on or after 25 July 2012 – the date on which the government first confirmed its plans – and certain social security benefits and lump sum payments made to sufferers under other schemes will be deducted from the final payment.
Following lobbying from trade unions and others, in early 2014 the government increased the level of payments available under the scheme from 75% (£115,000) to 80% (£123,000) of the average civil compensation for mesothelioma. Although ministers rejected calls to raise the threshold during parliamentary debates on the plan, it says unexpected savings in the scheme’s administration costs mean the amount of compensation can be raised to 80%.
According to the government, around 800 sufferers will be compensated in the scheme’s first year, with 300 payouts annually in the subsequent years up to 2014.
The scheme prompted a mixed reaction from trade unions and lawyers, with the TUC criticising the government for failing to backdate the compensation to victims diagnosed from 2010 onwards, when the scheme was first proposed by the previous Labour government.
However, writing on the Stronger Unions blog, Hugh Robertson, the TUC’s senior policy officer for health and safety, stressed that, despite its shortcomings, the scheme “should not be seen as a failure”. He added: “Every year, of the 2,400 people diagnosed with mesothelioma, 300 of them are not able to trace an insurer and so get nothing. These people will at least get something.”
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