An average of just over £135,000 was individually awarded under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) during 2015/16 – an increase of around 11 per cent on the £122,000 paid out in the previous year. It’s better news for some victims of asbestos exposure diagnosed with mesothelioma, but sadly, it’s not the whole story…

The 2nd Annual Review of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS), which was published by the DWP in November 2016, provides useful insight into the success or failure of applicants over the last 12 months.

Introduced in July 2014, the aim of DMPS is to offer a fast track solution for around 3,500 mesothelioma victims who every year are unable to trace their original employer or insurer. However, the scheme only applies to those diagnosed with the fatal cancer after 25th July 2012. Those who suffer with asbestosis disease, such as pleural thickening, are also excluded.

A further disappointment was the 80 per cent limit imposed on the average equivalent civil compensation payment. The amount was eventually changed to 100 per cent in February 2015 after MPs, victim support groups and asbestosis lawyers, repeatedly argued that mesothelioma claim victims and their families would suffer significant financial difficulties.

The DMPS performance statistics – originally collected in July 2016 – show that the rise in average payments was mostly due to the increase in tariff amounts, which came into effect on 10 February 2015, some six months after the scheme was first launched.

Withdrawn applications up from previous year

The review also reveals that in 2015/2016, the scheme received 375 applications, compared to the previous year’s 405 applications – a drop of 8 per cent. The DWP said the reduction was likely to have been caused by the build up of all those waiting for the scheme to start and who made their application in the first ‘financial’ year 2014/15. Prior to April 2014, there was 37 per cent of applications compared to 63 per cent in the new accounting period, which jumped to 79 per cent pre-April 2015 but fell back to 21 per cent in the following financial year.

It was also stated that the number of unsuccessful applicants had reduced from 22 per cent to 16 per cent, and 12 per cent were “pending a decision”. A quarter of the unsuccessful applicants (15 out of 60) requested a review of the decision made against them. In around a third of the cases granted a second review, a different outcome was obtained, mainly due to additional information provided by the applicant.

A further 7 per cent was “withdrawn” – up from the previous year’s 2 per cent – which is thought to be due to “increased awareness of the scheme’s eligibility rules”. In particular, the Review mentions the legal profession as likely to be responsible for the increased number of victims who later withdrew their application. It’s hardly surprising then that some asbestosis lawyers have raised a critical eyebrow in response to the review observations.

Questions over the low number of applicants

While the scheme appears to provide a quick and efficient service – over 95 per cent of applicants are paid within six weeks – questions over the low number of applicants have led some to conjecture if victims are actually being made aware of the scheme in the first place. It’s also likely that those victims or their families who do know of DMPS may simply assume that they might not be eligible to apply if they have already received a small lump sum from the government.

To put the seemingly low numbers in context. While DMPS received 405 applications in 2014-15, in the same year there were 2,215 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) and 2,515 mesothelioma deaths, according to the Health & Safety Executive – Mesothelioma Mortality in Great Britain, 1968-2014. Yet while applications and eligibility for the scheme appear to be falling the government watchdog predicts that death from the fatal cancer, which is now at 2,500 per year, is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Review concludes with several changes made to the scheme in 2015/16, including the introduction of a “further review mechanism prior to approving payments to successful claimants”. Do these changes mean that we will expect to see further reductions in eligible applicants and final approved payments in the next annual review, even as the numbers of victims continue?

For all it’s good intentions, DMPS was viewed with disappointment from the start. Asbestosis lawyers, MPs and victim support groups continue to be concerned over how the scheme is or is not working for those in most need.