UK government tax officials are breaching the human rights of bereaved spouses and the terminally ill by making them wait more than a year for essential employment records in work-related disease compensation claims, lawyers have warn.
Solicitors acting for sick workers say an average time of 383 days to retrieve historic work histories by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is denying claimants the right to pursue firms over sometimes terminal occupational diseases.
HMRC blames a lack of machines to access records held only on archaic microfilm and the volume of claims. It adds officials are “scouring the internet” for spare parts to fix the decrepit readers and have given priority to mesothelioma sufferers, who are promised their details in just ten days. However, this asbestos cancer makes up much less than a third of work-related cancer deaths each year, with other non-prioritised occupational diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also killing substantially more.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell says it has dozens of clients with other conditions such as lung cancer, or who have lost spouses to work-related conditions, who are waiting up to 18 months. It said that in such cases the delays were a breach of the right under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights to have civil claims heard “in a reasonable time.” Some with little time to live risked being denied justice altogether, lawyers argued, accusing officials of failing to act on their calls for action to improve the service.
Roger Maddocks, a partner at the law firm, said: “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.”
He added: “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.”