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February 10, 2010

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Fund of last resort’ to support workplace disease victims

The Government has outlined plans to help those with serious industrial

diseases trace their employers’ liability insurance (ELI) records in

order to claim compensation.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched a consultation process seeking views on proposals to create an Employers’ Liability Tracing Office to help people track down their ELI policies, and an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) to provide a ‘fund of last resort’ for those unable to trace them.

With some industrial diseases, it can take decades from the time a worker is exposed to the cause before the harm becomes known, by which time employers may have disposed of their old insurance records, lost them, or ceased trading altogether.

In 1999, the insurance industry set up a voluntary Code of Practice for tracing ELI policies. However, while it has led to some improvements, the DWP says many individuals are still unable to find the records necessary to pursue a claim for damages.

The proposed tracing office will hold ELI policies on an electronic database, which is expected to lead to improvements in the tracing service. The creation of an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau would require all ELI policies to include an additional small premium, which would be paid into a central fund. If a worker developed a serious industrial disease and no insurer could be identified, the individual would be paid compensation by the ELIB.

Work and Pensions minister Lord McKenzie said: “Far too many people suffering from serious industrial diseases are unable to trace their insurance polices and get the compensation they deserve. That is why we want to set up a better tracing service with a dedicated database to help them track down these policies, and a fund of last resort if all else fails.”

The consultation will consider how the tracing office should be managed and funded. It will also look at the scope of help that could be provided by an ELIB, the timing of claims, how much compensation could be paid, and what more employers can do to meet their duties in relation to liability insurance.

It is envisaged that the ELIB would operate in a similar manner to the existing Motor Insurers’ Bureau, which provides compensation for car owners who are involved in accidents with uninsured drivers.

Union bodies, who have been campaigning vigorously for an ELIB, welcomed the plans. Said UCATT general secretary, Alan Ritchie: “The Government’s announcement is excellent news and an important step forward. Far too often, workers develop life-threatening illnesses because employers have failed to provide adequate protection from harmful substances. If a worker’s health is ruined, they deserve compensation; by establishing an ELIB, the Government will ensure this occurs.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: “This is a fair and common-sense solution that the TUC has been campaigning for. Building on the compensation changes that the Government had already implemented (under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008) for those with mesothelioma, these proposals will make a marked difference to those who suffer from a fatal disease as a result of exposure to this deadly fibre.

The Association of British Insurers said it was opposed to the ELIB. Nick Starling, the group’s director of general insurance, argued: “It cannot be right that today’s law-abiding employers should have to pay for their potentially uninsured competitors, or firms that now no longer exist, and who may not have had insurance.

“Such a fund could also encourage some employers not to bother with insurance, or to take the health and safety of their employees less seriously, knowing that a fund of last resort would pay out. In short, there is a serious moral hazard involved in this proposal.”

He added that the ABI wants to do more “to help the small number of claimants who cannot trace the relevant insurer” but stressed that more than 98 per cent of employers’ liability claimants are able to claim if they have suffered an injury or disease caused by their work.

The consultation, ‘Accessing Compensation — supporting people who need to trace Employers’ Liability Insurance’, is available at www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations

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