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Specialist asbestos disease solicitors always request an asbestos sufferer’s employment history from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). HMRC will provide a list of an employee’s employers from April 1961 onwards. This is an essential document in proving a claimant’s employment with a particular company or entity. We usually need to sue the exact successor in title to the company that is listed on the HMRC schedule if a claimant has worked with asbestos. Furthermore, defendants will often not settle a claim for damages unless proof of employment can be provided.

As our clients were often exposed to asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s, it is rare for them to keep any record of their employment and the HMRC schedule is the only evidence of their employment with a particular defendant. Defendant companies will often not pay out any damages until they receive that proof of employment.

Mesothelioma claims affected by HMRC delays

HM Revenue and Customs do provide a very quick turnaround for sufferers of malignant conditions such as mesothelioma, the asbestos related cancer and lung cancer, provided we can show documentary evidence of the diagnosis. Often the employment histories in these cases are provided within a fortnight and we are, of course, very grateful for such a quick turnaround.

Delay for asbestosis and pleural thickening claimants

The difficulty is in relation to non-malignant conditions. We often act for clients suffering from asbestosis and pleural thickening. Asbestosis, in particular, is often a fatal condition in itself and can be extremely disabling. Many of our clients have limited life expectancies either from asbestosis or because they are suffering from other conditions. John Thompson, Chief of the HMRC, has admitted that significant delay is being caused for many claimants because most of the pre-1970s employment records are held on microfiche and they have a very limited number of machines at HMRC in order to access these historical records.

HMRC have in fact only 37 microfiche machines and we understand that these types of machines are no longer available in the UK. The machines often break down, requiring rare replacement parts and/or engineers with the relevant skills in order to fix them. As a result, asbestos disease sufferers with non-malignant conditions are a the time of writing having to wait over 390 days to receive their employment history.

Knock on effect

The consequence of this is that we, as solicitors, are unable to issue proceedings against the defendant company in order to progress the claim and defendant companies are unwilling to pay out any damages prior to the issue of proceedings because of the lack of proof of employment. Where an asbestos disease sufferer can recall the exact name of the company and perhaps have apprenticeship papers to confirm the same, we can issue confidently issue proceedings against the company in question and then make a third party application for disclosure of the employment schedule from HMRC.

The difficulty is, of course, that often our clients cannot recall the exact name of the company that they worked for in the 1960s. Perhaps they can picture the job where they were exposed to asbestos for a few years, but they have no recollection of the name of the company or the address. Without this information, we cannot issue proceedings.

Whilst we are grateful that HMRC can provide mesothelioma and lung cancer employment histories within 2 weeks, many of our clients suffering from other conditions are being prevented access to justice because of the overwhelmingly lengthy delay in providing these documents.

Laura Magson, specialist industrial disease lawyer says,

“it really is too long for our clients to have to wait for the vital information provided by HMRC. Many claims are effectively being put on hold for 13 months because of the lack of microfiche machines. I understand that around 200 staff work in the relevant office at the HMRC, but unfortunately, we are still not receiving employment histories in non-malignant conditions which is hindering progress of many claims.”