Companies House move may prevent asbestos compensation claims

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Companies House are considering removing company details from their database six years after a company becomes defunct. This would make it almost impossible for asbestos victims to claim compensation from liable employers.

Although awareness of the health and safety issues surrounding asbestos is high these days, victims currently experiencing symptoms would have been exposed to the substance when an understanding of the dangers was almost non-existent.

With no specific training, asbestos workers breathed in deadly carcinogens every day of their working lives, causing life-changing diseases decades later. The only recompense has been their ability to claim compensation from employers who had a clear duty of care to their staff.

Compensation payments also helped bereaved families to cope after the death of a loved one. So what is Companies House proposing to do?

Proving a company’s liability

The main aspect of claiming compensation is being able to prove an employer’s liability. As exposure often occurred decades before any symptoms are felt, it’s often the case that the company in question no longer exists.

Victims then rely on the information available at Companies House to trace their former employer. Details of dissolved companies are currently held for a period of 20 years, but Companies House is planning to reduce this to six years following company dissolution, and then have all the files deleted from their database.

“Mesothelioma deaths have not yet reached their peak”

Julie MacDougall, founder of the John MacDougall Mesothelioma Trust, said this move would prevent victims from getting the justice they deserve,

“These vital records should be left open and transparent so the companies who are responsible can be held to account for their negligence which has left families in utter devastation.”

Her father, John MacDougall, died from mesothelioma in 2008 at the age of 60. Although he moved into politics, Mr MacDougall initially worked in the shipyards – an industry known for its prolific use of asbestos for fireproofing and insulation.

Potentially no other form of justice for asbestos victims

Without the formal record of a company’s existence, victims of exposure may have no other access to justice. President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Neil Sugarman, added his concerns about the Companies House proposal:

“Victims of asbestos-related disease mesothelioma are dying because of exposure at work as far back as the 1980’s. Some of those companies who exposed their employees to asbestos are now likely dissolved and the records would be deleted under the plans. Without a record of the original company entity, workers and their families may never see justice be served.”

There is a growing campaign against the move with Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, calling on the Prime Minister to cancel the proposal by Companies House.

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show there were 3,128 compensation claims for mesothelioma in Great Britain during 2015/16, indicating the likely scale of the impact on asbestos victims should the proposal be accepted.