Mesothelioma sufferers and their families are more likely than not to welcome the news that there is to be a slight rise in the amount paid from April this year, when making a claim under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme 2008. As indeed, so will asbestos victim support groups and asbestosis lawyers, but who once again share their disappointment with victims diagnosed with mesothelioma on the actual size of the increase. Just 1 per cent.

The meager rise, which is the first since 2014, is stated to be in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). However, the latest available CPI figure is currently running at 1.6 per cent, according to the Office of National Statistics, January 2017. Furthermore, inflation is forecast by the Bank of England to continue to rise during 2017 to 2.7 per cent and remain above the 2 per cent target until 2020.

Payment vanished even before it’s to be paid out

Any modest extra payment that mesothelioma sufferers and their families may have thought they could look forward to has already vanished even before it’s to be paid out. Following the always unexpected and devastating shock of a confirmed mesothelioma diagnosis, spouses or dependant often face an immediate huge care burden in paying for medical, equipment and palliative (pain relief) treatments in the little remaining time left to the victim.

There is often a prognosis of just 2 – 6 months, within which a victim is concerned to see the financial future of their loved ones made secure. Although claims from dependants under the 2008 scheme can be entered after the victim has passed away, they have to be made within 12 months – and only if no other payment was made during life.

Introduced to help victims of the fatal malignant cancer

The Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme was introduced in October 2008 to help those victims of the fatal malignant cancer who have been unable to claim redress for several specific reasons, including:

  • Making a claim under the 1979 Pneumoconiosis Act because they were not occupationally exposed while handling asbestos at their workplace, or
  • Failure to receive payment relating to their condition from an employer, a civil claim or elsewhere.

However, the scheme does not make provision for those diagnosed mesothelioma victims who are found to be non-occupationally exposed to asbestos as a result of:

  • “Secondary exposure” – caused to a wife or daughter handling/washing asbestos-contaminated workclothes/overalls and boots brought home to be cleaned each night by the victim.
  • “Environmental exposure” – affected inhabitants living close by to asbestos-using factories who breathed in airborne fibre dust.
  • “Non-specific exposure” – where the cause cannot be exactly pinpointed despite a confirmed diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.

The scheme is also meant to help individuals who were self-employed when they were exposed.

Dependants face financial hardship

Clearly, the limitations of the scheme excludes a number of victim types or their dependants from eligibility to apply and may face financial hardship. It can still be seen as a daunting prospect for some victims and their families to enter a civil claim for mesothelioma compensation, which is hoped can be settled out of court with a former employer defendant admitting liability.

The later introduction of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) in July 2014 was an attempt to provide those many victims – more than 3,500 – who every year were unable to trace former employers or insurers with a faster way of receiving compensation. However, a major disappointment here was that eligibility was limited strictly to those only diagnosed with mesothelioma, and on or after the cut off date of 25 July, 2012.

A review of DMPS in 2015/2016 revealed that the scheme received 375 applications, compared to the previous year’s 405 applications – a drop of 8 per cent. Could it be that the strict limitation on eligibility is responsible for the reduction? It is well-documented that the numbers of victims of mesothelioma victims have not reduced.

Continuing high victim numbers

More than half of the 8,000 work-related cancer deaths recorded each year are still caused by past exposure to asbestos, and the number of asbestos exposure victims who lost their lives to mesothelioma in 2013 is, on average, 2,500, according to the latest available figures published in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Report, 2014/15. In the same year there were 2,215 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB).

The HSE forecast that the average annual mesothelioma toll of 2,500 could continue at the same level or even higher beyond the current expected peak in 2020. Provision under both the 2008 and 2014 mesothelioma payment schemes should reflect the reality of continuing high victim numbers and the increasing financial hardship as rising inflation starts to bite in the year ahead.