The Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO), which was set up in April 2011 to help individuals find a company’s insurers if a former employer is no longer in business, is shortly to introduce further improvements to the service. Among the changes will be an advisory panel to analyse evidence supplied by the claimant for the existence of their former employer’s liability policy in the absence of the policy itself.

ELTO, which has a database of millions of insurance policies from all past and present employers’ liability insurers, has helped around 20,000 claimants in pursuance of mesothelioma claim against a former employer’s insurer. Many victims of the fatal, incurable asbestosis cancer of the lung linings will welcome the addition to the service, which has helped to make tracing a former insurer quicker and easier in the time they may have left.

Pursuing a claim for mesothelioma compensation starts with a specialist asbestosis lawyer tracking down one or more former employers at workplaces where it is suspected that an employee’s exposure to asbestos occurred. A lawyer will need to have a comprehensive and detailed record of the victim’s entire work history from when they left school until taking retirement. This might include apprenticeships, part time or student temporary work, and any other activity where occupational contact with asbestos cannot be ruled out.

Invariably, a majority of cases will involve claimants aged in their late 70s, 80s or 90s who began their working lives within an industrial or manufacturing setting in their teens or early twenties at any time during the 1950s, 60s or 70s. It was from late 1945 through to the first asbestos ban of the mid 1980s that Britain was at the height of its widespread use of asbestos as an insulating and strengthening material.

Original company may no longer be in business

The ELTO can often be a crucial lifeline to asbestosis lawyers, mesothelioma victims and their families who have been unable trace a former employer. This is not unusual. In the 30 or 40 years it takes on average for the first asbestosis symptoms to potentially emerge from the initial period of exposure, the original company may no longer be in business. Alternatively, it may have changed hands several times or become a subsidiary to a large parent company headquartered outside of the UK.

More than 2,540 people now lose their lives to mesothelioma every year – up by more than 10 per cent in 5 years (“Occupational Lung Disease in Great Britain 2017”- Health and Safety Executive, HSE). At the same time, around 3,500 mesothelioma sufferers every year are unable to trace their original employer and / or insurer. In July 2014, the Government launched the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) as a ”fast track” for victims to apply for financial help, although there two key groups excluded – those diagnosed with mesothelioma before 25th July 2012, and victims suffering with other types of asbestosis disease, such as pleural thickening.

Four years on, it increasingly seems that DMPS was also not necessarily going to provide all the answers for many mesothelioma victims.

Long way removed from fund of “last resort”

In the first year, 2014-15, DMPS received 405 applications compared to 2,215 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) and the 2,515 mesothelioma deaths, according to the Health & Safety Executive (Mesothelioma Mortality in Great Britain, 1968-2014). It was only in February 2015 that compensation payments were upgraded from 80 per cent to 100 per cent, while the number of accepted applications actually fell by 8 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

In January 2017, the Government increased the payments by just 1 per cent, below the 1.6 per cent CPI figure at the time. By the end of 2017, analysis revealed that only 200 applications – just over a half (58 per cent) – were successfully accepted. The findings appeared to be consistent with the total number of all applications accepted from those received since the start of the scheme in 2014. Of 1,120 applications, 760 were accepted, 265 denied, 40 withdrawn and 55 decisions remained pending.

The figures seem a long way removed from the initial government claim that DMPS would provide a fund of “last resort” for the annual 3,500 sufferers unable to trace a former employer so that a liability claim may be pursued. In reality, compensation paid out by DMPS to between 190 to 200 sufferers each year would represent just a meagre 5.6 per cent of that government figure.

When DMPS was introduced, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) warned that the proposed initial funding (£350 million) would not be enough to meet the future demands for the expected numbers of confirmed mesothelioma cases. A realistic figure for the actual funding amount needed would be at least £11 billion.

More than thirty years on from the introduction of the first ban on the most toxic asbestos fibre types in 1985, a four-fold increase in the UK rate of mesothelioma has been reported by the Office of National Statistics and a further 45,000 deaths caused by mesothelioma is also forecast by 2050 (HSE).