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Work-Related Disease Sufferers Face Denial of Justice in Year-Long Wait For Employment Records From HMRC


A number of people in the UK taking legal action against their former employers after developing life threatening work-related diseases such as lung-cancer are facing delays of more than a year to receive their employment records from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).


This is denying them compensation at the time they need it and in some cases resulting in denial of compensation completely. Expert workplace illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say the delays are in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).


As a government department, one of the HMRC’s responsibilities is to ensure that, in respect of civil rights, citizens can have a fair and public hearing to determine their rights “within a reasonable time”, consistent with Article 6 of the ECHR. The current wait for HMRC histories, which is more than a year for some cases, is serving to delay determination of claims within a reasonable time and in some cases preventing fair determination of cases at all; in contravention of the ECHR.


HMRC is currently unable to provide records quickly as employment history for older workers is held on microfilm, an obsolete technology, which means providing records is labour intensive and difficult.


For many people suffering with disease caused by their occupation, such as lung cancer from exposure to asbestos and other harmful chemicals and fumes, this means they spend a year waiting for their employment records to be provided to them, or to lawyers representing them in a claim against their former employers for failing to protect them while at work.


For several months specialist workplace injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have been pressing HMRC, on behalf of clients they represent, to explain the steps the organisation and the government are taking to help victims of work-related illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Access to work history records kept by the HMRC is vital for those looking to pursue claims against their former employers as they provide the name of the employer that a claimant worked for in any tax year (proof of employment), as well as an indication of the dates of each employment, which ensure the complete work history can be fully investigated. 


The dates of employment may be crucial in the case of companies which are no longer in business as in such cases it is essential to trace the identity of the insurer on cover at the time the exposure took place.


Those who have lost loved ones to industrial and work-related diseases are also facing delays in getting justice and compensation for their relatives due to the backlog of work history requests that has built up.


Roger Maddocks, a Partner and expert workplace disease and illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said that while the delays in providing work histories can be frustrating for many people, there are some victims of occupational diseases, or families who have lost loved ones, who will never be able to access compensation as a result of HMRC delays in providing employment details.


Expert Opinion
“At present HMRC will only fast track applications for the work histories made on behalf of claimants suffering from mesothelioma. However, we are told that HMRC will not fast track requests for work histories in other cases including posthumous mesothelioma claims ( even those brought by widows or widowers of the deceased victim)or for living claimants suffering from other terminal conditions, such as asbestos-related lung cancer.

“ Delays are now over a full year and these delays meant that in many cases the claim cannot be made. This means victims are unable to access compensation when, if they are terminally ill, it is most needed.

“There is also the possibility that individuals suffering from these terrible work-related diseases and illnesses die before the full HMRC work history is available or that their legal claim may be statute barred if the delay prevents the identification of the correct defendants to commence Court Proceedings before the expiry of the limitation period.

“Clearly these delays, which are impacting individuals who are desperate to understand where and why they were exposed to working conditions that caused them to develop these conditions, need to be addressed.

"It is particularly concerning that the backlog for work history requests is running at 383 days, preventing people determining their rights within a reasonable time, which is set out in Article 6 of the European Court of Human Rights.

“We believe that the cause of the delays is the decisions that have been made in regards to the storage of data on an obsolete technology that has led to the creation of a labour intensive process to access this data and the lack of equipment to read microfilms.

“We have yet to receive any indication that HMRC is taking any adequate steps to address these serious issues, which are having a significant impact on those who have developed terrible illnesses as a result of their employment, who are desperate for answers from their former employers about why steps were not taken to protect them, and their colleagues, from harmful substances.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

If you or a loved one has been affected by an asbestos related illness, our asbestos solicitors can help you to claim compensation. Read our Asbestos-Related Disease Claims Guide for more information.