The proposed Mesothelioma Bill, which would limit both mesothelioma claim levels and eligibility, was given a second reading in the House of Commons on 2nd December.

Department of Works and Pension Minister, Mike Penning, said the government’s proposed Bill is, “part of the ongoing commitment by the Government and the insurance industry to correct the market failure that everyone accepts there has been in respect of mesothelioma cases.”

According to Mr Penning, the problem is to be tackled in two ways, “by firstly providing a power to set up a payment scheme” and, secondly, “the possibility of establishing a technical committee to make binding decisions on the insurance industry when there are disputes.”

Under the proposed Bill, a scheme is to be established, which will make lump-sum payments to eligible mesothelioma sufferers and their dependants, if they are also eligible.

Concern over the exclusion of patients

However, the introduction of the Mesothelioma Bill – due to come into force in July 2014 – has raised growing concern over the exclusion of patients who suffer with other asbestosis conditions as well as those who were diagnosed with mesothelioma before the 25 July 2012 cut-off date.

While the scheme is aimed to provide mesothelioma compensation to 3,500 previously excluded sufferers in the first ten years, payouts are likely to be only 75 per cent of the average compensation levels, which could be far lower than is possible to be obtained when a former insurer can be traced.

A reason given was that the scheme is to be funded through a levy on insurers active in the employers’ liability market who will bear the £350 million cost of the scheme. A further adjustment could also be applied because of the levy to be paid by insurers, and estimated volumes and costs if the scheme started on specific dates.

Recovery of benefits

A further worrying issue was raised concerning the scheme following civil procedures to recover 100 per cent of benefits from those who have received payments until their compensation has been paid.

According to the original intentions of the Bill, which originated in the House of Lords in July 2012, innocent victims of asbestos exposure at their workplace due to negligent employer practices were to finally receive quicker justice and financial redress after many decades of slow-paced response and robust challenges from the insurance industry.

According to Mr Penning, the scheme was developed for victims to still be able to access payment for mesothelioma “while they are still alive” in circumstances where adequate historical records are not available and there has been negligence or a breach of the statutory duty.

In 2011, there was 725 newly assessed cases of asbestosis (Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit,2011) and in 2012, there was an estimated 2,000 asbestos related lung cancer deaths, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Mesothelioma rate steadily rising

The incidence rate of mesothelioma in the UK has been steadily rising in the UK with a four-fold increase just in the last thirty years (Office of National Statistics).

According to the HSE there are at least 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths recorded every year, and around 28,500 deaths are expected between July 2012 and March 2024, the duration of the proposed scheme.

The Mesothlioma Bill will next go to Committee stage and Report stage before receiving a third House of Commons reading and further amendments considered before passing into legislation in July 2014.