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Keep Phoenix House benefits office open!

Phoenix House in Barrow, Cumbria has been earmarked for closure in March 2018 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Phoenix House is a specialist benefits office that deals with all Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) claims for people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases throughout the country.

If the closure goes ahead it will be a blow for mesothelioma sufferers who benefit greatly from the expertise that has been built up over many years by the DWP staff based in this office. In addition to IIDB claims, staff at Phoenix process linked benefits such as Constant Attendance Allowance, Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance and lump sums paid under the Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and 2008 Mesothelioma Scheme.

This is a niche area of the benefits system with complex benefit rules and a vulnerable client group, many of whom are elderly and have been newly diagnosed with a terminal illness. They need to be sure their claims will be dealt with sensitively and efficiently. Staff at Phoenix House tick all these boxes. Advice workers can reassure mesothelioma patients that the benefits to which they are entitled will be processed and paid within two to three weeks in nearly all cases.

The 70 workers in Phoenix House have built up a huge amount of expertise in these specialist benefits over many years. If the office closes the most likely result would be a deterioration in service, longer delays in processing benefit claims and increased uncertainty for mesothelioma patients. Forum groups have developed an excellent working relationship with staff at Phoenix House and the people we help have benefitted greatly from their expertise and empathy.

The Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK fully supports the Phoenix House workers in their campaign to keep this office open. We have sent an open letter to the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions which has been supported by all the main charities and support groups working with victims of asbestos diseases, along with people living with mesothelioma, bereaved family members, doctors and lawyers.

We are now in the middle of a General Election campaign. There will be a new Government and new Ministers after June. We intend to keep the pressure on to keep Phoenix House open after the election and will resend the open letter so that the new Government Ministers are left in no doubt about our total opposition to the closure of this office. If you would like to add your support for this open letter, please contact the Forum at asbestos.mcr@gmail.com

You can also support this campaign by signing the online petition here.

Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group (GMAVSG) is a registered charity (1113201).

We offer free and independent advice on benefits and compensation to people with asbestos-related diseases and their families.

We also campaign for better funding for medical research and treatment, fairer benefits and compensation, the removal of asbestos from the places where we work and live, and an international ban on asbestos.

As a small charity, we rely on donations to carry on the work we do. To donate to us, please click here.

Remembering Kevin Lynch

We received the sad news last week that Kevin Lynch, who was instrumental in establishing the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group, passed away on 17th January 2017. We would like to extend our condolences to Kevin’s family.

Living Well with Mesothelioma Support Group – new venue from February

The Support Group meetings will be moving from Cross Street Chapel to the Methodist Central Hall (Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JQ) from February. For a map and directions to the venue click here.

Meetings will still take place on the first Monday of each month (except our May meeting) from 1.30 – 3.30 p.m.

Support Group meetings are open to all mesothelioma patients and their carers. Details of our future meetings can be found here: Living Well A5 Flyer 2017.

Asbestos victims welcome Companies House change of heart on destroying records

Groups representing sufferers of asbestos related diseases have welcomed reassurances given on behalf of the Government that proposals to destroy records of dissolved companies have been abandoned.

The Guardian reported in August that Companies House was planning to destroy the records of companies that had been dissolved for longer than 6 years, overturning their current policy of retaining records for at least 20 years.

This would have been disastrous for asbesos victims seeking compensation for their negligent workplace exposure to asbestos. Asbestos diseases take decades to develop, sometimes for as long as 60 years. Because of this, the negligent employer has usually gone out of business by the time a disease develops. Access to Companies House records on dissolved companies is therefore crucial for victims trying to secure justice.

Moves to delete Companies House records will impede compensation claims from asbestos victims

The Guardian recently reported that Companies House was planning to delete millions of records it holds on dissolved companies. The proposals are to delete records older than 6 years old. There seems to be no pressing need for this, other than administrative convenience, but the consequences for asbestos victims seeking to pursue claims for compensation could be devastating.

Asbestos diseases develop many years after the asbestos exposure that caused them. For example, the average latency period before mesothelioma develops is about 35 years. In the intervening period, the employer who caused the asbestos exposure may have gone out of business. Furthermore, the person who develops the disease may not remember the name of their employer, or know whether the original employer changed its name or was a subsidiary of another company.

Kathleen Ruff honoured by Quebec’s National Assembly

One of Canada’s best known anti-asbestos campaigners has been awarded the prestigious Medal of Honour by Quebec’s National Assembly in recognition of her tireless work campaigning against Canada’s deadly asbestos trade, and her pivotal role in bringing this trade to a halt.

Kathleen Ruff is well known to Forum members but her achievements deserve wider recognition. This award would have been unthinkable until fairly recently. Quebec was the heart of Canada’s asbestos industry, and Canada was one of the world’s leading asbestos producing and exporting countries. To defeat the asbestos industry in Canada the fight would have to be taken to the heart of the beast and Kathleen did this with relentless determination. She managed to pull together an effective coalition of doctors and scientists who were prepared to stand up and say publically that chrysotile kills. She worked closely with asbestos victims in Canada and other countries to expose the devastating effects of Canada’s love affair with asbestos. She persuaded key politicians to break with the consensus and take a stand against the asbestos industry. And she took on the lies and distortions of the asbestos lobby, their go-to scientists and the politicians who pushed their interests in Government.