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Positive news for mesothelioma clients

The mesothelioma team here is very relieved to hear that Government plans to delete millions of public records have been scrapped.

Companies House, the government agency responsible for registering all UK limited companies, maintains a database of every firm ever incorporated in the UK and provides free of charge information on directors, shareholders, accounts and liquidations.

Six months ago, the Government was considering proposals to reduce the amount of time the records of dissolved companies are retained, and therefore available to the public, from 20 years to six.

According to newspaper reports, ministers were under pressure to destroy records following complaints from people who believe retaining and making available information that relates to companies that have not been trading for 20 years undermines data protection laws.

Former directors previously associated with dissolved companies lobbied the Government for the right to distance themselves from a company that had been liquidated or struck off. If the proposals had gone through, more than 2.5 million records could have been lost.

Critics of the proposal said that deleting records would obstruct investigations into fraud, corruption and money laundering and would be a U-turn in the Government's stated intention to create greater corporate transparency.

Companies House records currently stretch back to 1996. According to the organisation's annual report, since it made records freely available via online search last June, there have been 2m requests for information a day, meaning 64m searches were made between June 2015 and March 2016.

For our team working for clients pursuing compensation claims against companies for asbestos-related diseases, access to records spanning 20 years or more is vital.

For a disease that can take years to manifest, meaning people do not know specifically where they were exposed to asbestos, we frequently need to go back through a person's entire working life to find details of companies and their insurers that could have been negligent in the treatment of employees. We often go back to 1961 when national insurance records began, or even earlier if necessary.

Obviously, some of these companies will have been liquidated. Without records, we simply could not track them down and clients would have no recourse to compensation.

Understanding the plight of mesothelioma sufferers, Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire, queried the plans in Parliament.

According to figures from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), the number of workers who died from asbestos-related cancer almost doubled in West Dunbartonshire  between 2006 and 2010.

Situated on the River Clyde, that area of Scotland is a key location for shipbuilding and heavy engineering, the former particularly renowned for its use of asbestos.  

In response, Margot James, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said last week that although the Government would continue to review the period for which records are retained, it had no current plans to progress proposals to reduce the amount of time Companies House retains records of dissolved companies.

Read the story as published by the Guardian here.