Written evidence from the Asbestos Support Central England Registered Charity (HAB0011)

Asbestos Support Central England is a member of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK. We submit applications for health related benefits and compensation for service users living in the West Midlands region and neighbouring counties.

We fully endorse the evidence submitted by the Forum’s chair, Joanne Gordon, on our behalf. In addition we offer the following further observations.

       Should there be an option to manage claims online?

For organisations like ourselves, and for members of the public who are able to do so, it would be extremely useful to have the option to complete the forms on-line and save your progress as you go along. Blue Badge applications work in this way and it makes the process much quicker and easier to complete.

At the moment, unless we agree to have the contents saved on overseas servers, which seems dubious in the light of our obligations under the GDPR, we have no alternative but to complete application forms like the BI100PD and PWC1 by hand. Entries like the personal statement in Section 3 of the Bi100PD have to be handwritten, making corrections and amendments difficult. Handwritten submissions must also be more difficult, in many cases, for the DWP case handler to read.

To compound the time consuming nature of the task, we then have to scan the handwritten forms in order to keep copies or send them electronically, all of which is completely unnecessary in the modern age. However, we agree that the option to submit handwritten forms does need to be retained.

       How the DWP can best help the third sector to support claimants in their applications

We entirely endorse everything which has been said in the Forum’s submission. When forms have to be posted to service users for checking and signing there is a considerable cost to the charity. Furthermore, there is a lot of information which has to be sent with the forms. If we post everything in one large envelope there is a tendency for it to be torn open in the sorting machines at Royal Mail, causing further delays. This necessitates sending several smaller packets. Anything which eases this process, including the option to complete and submit forms, and permit the service user to check the contents, on-line would be welcomed all round.

The option to receive a ‘read receipt’ is very helpful, although case handlers do not always acknowledge receipt. When they do, it removes the need for us to ring their office in Barrow to confirm receipt, which also streamlines the process.

In one recent case, and although he had been sent details of what benefits he might expect to receive, an elderly service user confused his Attendance Allowance application with his applications for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and the Lump Sum compensation payment. He rang me to say that he was overjoyed to have received a substantial sum from the DWP. I recorded his case as resolved when in fact his BI100PD and PWC1 application forms had never been opened and were subsequently deleted from their system by the DWP. This only came to light when his solicitor reviewed the payments he had received, and by this time he had sadly passed away. Fortunately, I had on this occasion been sent a ‘read receipt’ and his case was backdated to the date of his original claim, to the benefit of his next-of-kin.

       What are the benefits and drawbacks of paper-based assessments?

We entirely endorse the Forum’s evidence. Unfortunately, however, there is a postcode lottery element to the evidence from clinicians. Some clinicians seem insufficiently aware of the importance of a patient’s occupational history. This seems to be because they are unaware of the benefits and compensation process, or of its impact on a patient’s overall well-being and peace of mind.

They therefore approach the diagnosis from a purely clinical perspective. If the cause of the illness is immaterial to the treatment plan, they have a tendency to overlook it, or to steer patients away from a diagnosis of an occupational injury in order to be able to put them on some trial or other which is only available to patients with a different diagnosis.

One service user was told by a respiratory consultant that they had ‘asbestos burns’ on their lungs. Unfortunately, this isn’t a clinical diagnosis or a prescribed disease. Fortunately the consultant had the good sense to refer the patient to the Birmingham Chest Clinic for follow-up treatment, but this does not always happen and the patient could have been left in limbo, as many are, with a vague diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis or similar. The only solution to this is better awareness among the medical profession of the importance of enquiring in some detail about a patient’s occupation when making some diagnoses.

       Other comments: We would be in favour of the removal from PWCA of the 20-year rule

We fully endorse all of the comments made in the Forum’s submission. A good example of the difficulties created by this rule is a man who appeared to have worked for the same employer from 1968 until his retirement in 2017. For most of this time his workplace had traded under the same name and has now reverted to it. It therefore appears to be the same going concern which took him on as a young lad in 1968.

However, subsequent enquiries by his solicitor have confirmed that the original company ceased trading many years ago and their insurers cannot be traced. In the meantime, the claimant’s workplace changed hands four times and it may take years of enquiries and litigation to unravel whether or not the new owners assumed the liabilities of their predecessors, as some of these takeovers happened long before TUPE.

Meanwhile, the claimant has been refused the small amount of PWCA compensation which would have helped him to pay for the mobility scooter he has been forced to buy. The government would, in any event, be able to recover this money were his claim against any of the companies eventually to succeed.

 

October 2021