Government plans to compensate people who develop mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos at work but cannot find a liable employer or insurer have been welcomed by the insurance industry.
Yesterday's Queen's Speech saw confirmation that a Mesothelioma Bill will be introduced during the new parliamentary session to set up a payment scheme for people who develop the fatal cancer but cannot trace a solvent employer or insurer to claim against. Plans for the support scheme were originally announced last July.
The scheme, which will be paid for by a compulsory levy on active insurers, is expected to benefit around 3,500 sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma, who would between them receive around £355m in payments over the first 10 years it is in operation. The scheme will be up and running by July 2014, but anyone diagnosed with the condition from July 25 2012 will be able to claim.
Separate reforms, expected to be introduced by the Ministry of Justice, will speed up the claims process by giving set timescales for providing information and fixing legal costs. This should mean that, where an employer or insurer can be traced, compensation is paid within three months, and between three and five months when no employer or insurer can be found.
Otto Thoresen, director of the Association of British Insurers, said the insurance industry was committed to ensuring mesothelioma sufferers were supported.
'Mesothelioma is a devastating disease which has a terrible impact on sufferers and their families,' he said.
'The insurance industry wants to do all it can to help sufferers and has worked with the government on this package of measures that will deliver help to claimants much faster, including to those who would otherwise go uncompensated.'
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, also welcomed the legislative plans, which she said showed that historic exposure to asbestos was being taken seriously.
'But we should also be remembering that buildings, and in particular many school buildings, still contain asbestos and leave pupils and those that teach and otherwise work with them at risk of contracting this terrible disease.
'Steps need to be taken to obviate this risk for the future through a programme of asbestos removal from schools and other public buildings.'
However, the government's plans came under fire from some lawyers. Law firm and personal injury specialists Spencers Solicitors criticised the decision to limit the compensation scheme to sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma.
'All victims of asbestos-related disease should receive the urgent compensation they deserve. It appears that the future fund will not go anywhere near far enough in ensuring justice for all victims of asbestos,' said firm director John Spencer.
'Support for mesothelioma victims is long overdue, but it is not right that those who suffer other lung cancers or conditions caused by asbestos may get nothing under the proposed legislation. We urge MPs and peers to amend the legislation to tackle this injustice.'