Compensation payouts to miners suffering from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) are rising sharply, government figures have shown.
Responding to a freedom of information request, the Department of Energy & Climate Change – which is responsible for the liabilities of the former nationalised coal industry – said that in 2013/14 it paid out just over £3m in respect of 1,393 claims.
This compares with £2.2m paid out on 953 claims in 2012/13, and £827,065 on 366 claims the year before that.
The first four months of the 2014/15 financial year had seen £961,005 paid out on 435 claims.
The figures show the average payout to be around the £2,200 mark.
The number of claims paid is considerably less than the number received – 3,147 of the 11,230 received in the three and a bit years reported – but the department does not say whether the remaining claims have been rejected or are still being processed.
Though the number of paid claims increased by 46% between 2012/13 and 2013/14, the number of claims received fell 12% between those two years.
NIHL claims are becoming the new personal injury battleground. The Association of British Insurers last month argued  that industrial deafness claims are “fast becoming the new cash cow for claimant lawyers” and their fees need to be curbed.
Bridget Collier, head of industrial disease at Fentons and a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ executive committee, wrote on the association’s blog last week that “in the last three years more information about the right to claim for hearing loss has become widely available”.
She said: “I myself am driven mad listening to the radio advertisements and on social media that tell me what the symptoms are and that there might be a claim. But all this amounts to education. Without it, you might just carry on thinking that deafness is something that’s crept up and you cannot do anything about it. But on learning that it might be someone’s fault and not an unfortunate consequence of age, of course it’s fair to make enquiries.”
She said audiogram tests and an examination by an ear, nose and throat consultant can work out what is caused by excessive noise and what is caused by age or health issues. “With a test procedure with such specific results, a fraudster is obvious in several ways. We can surely rely upon on the evidence.”
As a result, Ms Collier said “the insurers’ accusations make us wonder if they are simply trying to avoid paying out by shaming people out of claiming”.