The government has announced that it will increase tariff payments under the Mesothelioma Act to 100%, rather than 80%, of the average damages victims would have achieved in the courts.
Mark Harper, minister for disabled people, said in a written statement to the House of Commons that regulations would be introduced to increase the payments to 100% from 10 February.
He said that the payment process would take effect when the regulations became law next month.
“The number of claimants has proven to be below the level anticipated, “Mr Harper said. “I made it clear through the passage of the Mesothelioma Act that I planned to monitor the scheme to gauge the extent that the assumptions made when it was being set up had been borne out in practice, and would also consider the impact on the insurance companies who pay for it.
“It is already clear that the insurance industry, through its Employer Liability Tracing Office, is doing an increasingly good job at tracing insurance policies which means sufferers can more easily pursue compensators for a remedy.
“I am determined that this success is maintained, reinforced by regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority.”
Mr Harper added that, following discussions with the insurance industry, the government had agreed to introduce some “additional safeguards” to ensure that the scheme “remains a scheme of last resort”.
However, John Spencer, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said mesothelioma victims needed full compensation and “should never have been penalised” simply because their former insurer could not be traced.
“The government should be applauded for acting quickly to exploit the lower than expected uptake of the scheme, but it is still highly regrettable that 100% compensation was not available for all mesothelioma sufferers from the inception of the scheme.”
Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos-related disease team at Irwin Mitchell, said that, despite the change, many victims would still receive “far less” than if they had successfully pursued a compensation claim through the courts.
“These victims of asbestos exposure are suffering from a horrible and aggressive terminal cancer through no fault of their own and should not be punished once again simply because an insurance policy cannot be traced,” he said.
“We repeatedly called for the government to pay out 100% of the individual’s entitlement and feel strongly that at very least the increase in the average payment should be backdated to the beginning of the scheme.”
Andrew Morgan of Fieldfisher said the increase will “reduce the injustices and ease the financial plight suffered by eligible mesothelioma sufferers and their families”.
But he added that there is still some way to go: “The scheme does not cover mesothelioma sufferers who were exposed outside work, nor does it cover asbestos-related lung cancers or other fatal industrial diseases. We call on the government to extend the scheme to cover everyone who is suffering terminal illness as a result of someone else’s negligence.”
The diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme was introduced by the Mesothelioma Act in April 2014. Lord McKenzie of Luton, who led on the Bill for Labour in the House of Lords, predicted this time last year that tariff payments would increase to 100%.