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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

HMRC must address year-long wait for work records

HMRC must address year-long wait for work records


Delays deny people suffering from workplace-related illnesses access to compensation at the time they need it most, writes Roger Maddocks

Workplace-related illness and disease can be extremely serious for those affected, with many conditions significantly impacting on quality of life, preventing sufferers from working due to the severity
of their symptoms and in
many cases causing
premature death.

Those who develop illness and diseases as a result of their employment have the right to access justice to ensure that their former or current employers, who may not have done enough to protect them, are held to account and to obtain the fair compensation that they are entitled to.

However, for many people who have developed life-limiting conditions the process of taking legal action is not as simple as it should be, as they, and their legal representatives, are currently being forced to wait for as long as a year for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to provide employment records. This is not only a frustration for victims, but it essentially denies them access to compensation at the time they need it most.Access to work history records kept by HMRC is vital. First, it is necessary to correctly identify employers, as all too often there are a number of companies with similar names, and second, the dates of employment must be confirmed - something which is vital if the company is no longer in business - so that the correct insurers on cover at the time when exposure took place can be identified.

Obsolete technology

Currently, HMRC is unable to provide records in a timely manner for older workers as records for periods of employment prior to 1997 are stored on microfilm, an obsolete technology, which makes recovering them a labour-intensive and difficult procedure. This task is made even more difficult by the fact that HMRC does not have enough machines to keep
up with the number of employment history requests.

What this means for those suffering with life-limiting conditions, such as lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust (or other substances) or exposure to fumes while working at coking plants across the UK, is that they face a year-long wait for employment records.

Those who have lost loved ones are also facing a frustrating wait due to the backlog of work history requests that have built up, and it is time for this issue to be addressed. In some cases, delays of over a year can mean families lose out on compensation completely.

Denied compensation

If records are not received, it can prevent the identification of the correct defendants, meaning it is not possible to commence court proceedings before the expiry of the limitation period. Sometimes, the victim dies before the records are available to facilitate completion of the investigation into their work history and history of exposure with every relevant employer.

Currently, applications for employment histories for living claimants suffering from mesothelioma are fast-tracked. However, HMRC is not implementing these same measures for living claimants suffering from other terminal conditions, such as asbestos-related lung cancer, or posthumous mesothelioma claims.

Clearly, these delays, which are impacting those who are desperate for answers about why, where, and when they were exposed to the working conditions that caused their health to deteriorate, need to be addressed.

We believe that the cause of these delays is the decision to store employment data on an obsolete technology, which 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. It is time for the government to act and to do so without delay.

Roger Maddocks is a partner at Irwin Mitchell @irwinmitchell