The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) annual review of payments shows a dramatic drop in successful applications. Only 25 per cent of claims carried out by the victims (or their families) themselves were successful compared to 75 per cent of successful claims led by an asbestosis lawyer or solicitor. The 2016/17 report – issued by The Department for Work & Pensions(DWP) – also shows varying results for different age groups.

The Government “fast track” DMPS scheme was introduced in July 2014 to help around 3,500 mesothelioma victims who, every year, are unable to trace their original employer or insurer. However, the first crushing blow for victims of asbestos exposure was the restriction of applications to those diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25th July 2012, and also excludes those suffering with asbestosis disease, such as pleural thickening.

Next, the scheme attracted criticism right at the start by the 80 per cent limit imposed on the average equivalent civil compensation payment, which was eventually changed to 100 per cent in February 2015. Other continuing issues concern the number of accepted applications – which dropped by 8 per cent in the DMPS review, 2015/2016 – and the reduction in the insurers levy funding, which is now almost half of the 3 per cent originally pledged by the Government in 2014. In January 2017, the Government increased the payments by just 1 per cent, below the 1.6 per cent CPI figure at the time.

DMPS review will be disappointing to the innocent victims of exposure to asbestos

Figures published in the latest DMPS review will be disappointing to the many men and women, and their families, who became the innocent victims of exposure to asbestos in the workplace or at home during much of the middle years of the 20th century. Of the 345 applications received in the last 12 months – down from the 375 applications in 2015/16 – just 200, or around a half (58 per cent) were successful. The report also reveals that since the 2014 launch of the scheme, a total of 1,120 applications were received, of which, 760 (68 per cent) were accepted, 265 denied, 40 withdrawn and 55 decisions pending.

The results may seem to be at odds with the 2,542 mesothelioma fatalities and 467 deaths from asbestosis recorded annually by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – “Occupational Lung Disease in Great Britain. 2017”. In 2016, mesothelioma or non-malignant pleural diseases associated with asbestos exposure accounted for 60 per cent of cases reported to SWORD – the HSE funded scheme to monitor work-related respiratory disease in the UK. In the same year, 3,830 (91 per cent) of the 4,240 new cases of occupational lung diseases assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB), were associated with past asbestos exposure.

Those under 60 represent 1 in 16 (6 per cent) of applications

Of particular interest is the difference in the number of applications received from different age groups. Not unexpectedly, the highest proportion of applications (1 in 10) was made by people aged 85 or over, while 1 – 5 (21 per cent) were aged 75 – 79. Of concern is the inclusion in this figure of the 65 – 69 age group, while those under 60 represent just 1 in 16 (6 per cent) of applications. The concern arises from the increasing number of cases reported of men – and particularly women – aged in their 60s or below who are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Recent studies also appear to confirm that there has been a gradual shift in the age group of those victims who lose their life to the fatal, incurable cancer. Figures released by the Office of National Statistic (ONS, 2015) indicate that between 1968 and 2013, the number of male mesothelioma deaths aged between 50 and 70 increased by about 25 per cent and will increase by about a further 20-35 per cent by 2050.

Among the male fatalities are the service, cleaning and maintenance engineers whose regular tasks often involved repairing and replacing asbestos insulation in buildings, boiler and pipework systems up until the mid-1980s at least, when the first asbestos ban was introduced in the UK. Non-occupational exposure cases are also appearing more frequently among females aged in their 60s who started working in schools, hospitals, local authority buildings and commercial offices during the 1970s – the peak of asbestos imports and its widespread use in building construction and renovation.

The DWP review of the DMPS scheme appears to indicate that many mesothelioma sufferers and their families are still not finding the help they so urgently need in often the short time they have left. Our concern is once again raised over how the scheme appears to not be serving those who need it most, and that the chance of a successful application is drastically reduced without asbestosis lawyers or solicitors acting on their behalf.