When acting for people who are making a claim following a diagnosis of mesothelioma, a very important step that should be taken at the outset is to write to HM Revenue & Customs and request a copy of the patient’s schedule of employment, which shows their employment history.


The records are based on national insurance contributions, which are used to identify people’s employers in each tax year.  Unfortunately, the process by which HMRC obtain this information is less straightforward than you may think.  While we now live in the digital age, most of the records prior to the mid – 1970s are held by HMRC on microfiche and can take some time to collate.


Having said this, HMRC have previously been sympathetic to the need for these schedules to be provided quickly in mesothelioma cases.  While it could take many months to receive this information in other cases, we found that we would receive it within a month of it being requested in mesothelioma cases.


Unfortunately, the timescales seem to have significantly deteriorated in recent times.  We have tended to find that, even in mesothelioma cases, it can now take several months for HMRC to respond and provide the information that we need.  This can cause significant problems for patients with mesothelioma when bringing legal claims.


Why are HMRC schedules so important in mesothelioma cases?


When making a mesothelioma claim where the exposure to asbestos occurred at work, it is necessary to prove that the patient was actually employed by the employer who exposed them.  As the exposure often occurred decades before the onset of the illness, most people no longer have any paperwork to show that they were employed by the employer in question.  The HMRC schedule lists all previous employers and the tax years of employment.  As such, if the HMRC schedule is obtained and the relevant employers are on there, it means that they cannot deny ever having employed the patient.


Due to what is usually a very long time between the exposure to asbestos and the onset of the illness, people are often unable to remember the exact years that they were employed by the employer that exposed them to asbestos.  This can be very important, as the employers often no longer exist and it is a question as to whether or not they had any insurance in place.  In order to obtain compensation from the insurers, it will be necessary to show that exposure to asbestos occurred while the policy was in force.  The HMRC schedule can help in this regard, as it shows the precise years that the patient was employed by each employer.


There is another problem that can arise from the long gap between exposure to asbestos and the onset of the illness.  If someone worked for a company with a complicated corporate structure and there have been changes of name and / or ownership since the exposure took place, this can make it difficult to identify the correct company to sue.  This is very important, as the insurers could refuse to pay out any compensation if court proceedings are not issued against the correct company.  This is another instance where the HMRC schedule can help.  As it shows the name of the company in each tax year of employment, this makes it easier to identify the correct company.  Even if they have changed names, we can look at Companies House records to see the previous names and the dates the name changes took place.  We can then see if this matches with what is shown on the HMRC schedule.


Sometimes people will simply not be able to recall every employer that they have worked for.  As the post war boom continued into the 1960s and the UK enjoyed a prolonged period of full employment, it was quite normal to change jobs regularly if other employers were offering higher pay.  We often find that, upon receipt of the HMRC schedule, a patient will then recall various short – lived jobs that they had previously forgotten about.  This is very important in building an accurate picture of their employment history and how and where they were exposed to asbestos.


Problems caused by delays in getting the HMRC schedule


If HMRC do not provide this information promptly, it can cause real difficulties in mesothelioma cases.


Mesothelioma is, sadly, a terminal condition.  As such, it is very important to act quickly in order that full witness evidence can be taken from the patient before they deteriorate to the point that they are no longer able to provide instructions.  In order to provide full and accurate information on their employment history going back decades, people will often need their HMRC schedule to refresh their memory.  If the HMRC schedule is delayed to the point that the patient has deteriorated and is no longer able to provide instructions, this can cause difficulties with their claim.


Delays in the HMRC schedule being received can also cause further delays in progressing the claim as a whole.  In some cases, the patient may sadly die before the claim has been concluded and, if they do not have any dependants, the claim will be worth a lot less than it would have been had it concluded in their lifetime.  Delays in obtaining the HMRC schedule make situations like this more likely.


We recently had a mesothelioma case where the employers no longer existed and no insurers could be traced.  We assisted our client in making an application to the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, which was put in place to compensate people with mesothelioma who were exposed to asbestos by employers who no longer exist and for whom no insurance can be found.


In order to succeed in such an application, one of the things that needs to be provided is the HMRC schedule in order to prove that the patient was employed by the relevant employer.


We quickly gathered the evidence required, with the exception of the HMRC schedule.  Despite us chasing HMRC on numerous occasions, we had still not received it some five months after it was first requested.


As we did not seem to be getting any further forward with HMRC, we contacted our client’s local MP and explained the very difficult position our client was in.  To his credit, the MP contacted someone at HMRC and we received the schedule shortly afterwards.  Our client’s application was then approved.  While he was pleased with the outcome, he had endured months of stress that would not have been necessary had we been provided with the HMRC schedule at an early stage.


We hope that HMRC will again be in a position to provide these schedules within a month of them being requested as soon as possible.