Thompsons’ call for a fund to mirror that which pays compensation to those injured by uninsured drivers comes after a recent review of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) voluntary tracing scheme confirmed what Thompsons has long said was the case – it isn’t working. Just 41% of enquiries to the scheme were successful with more than 7,000 enquiries failing to trace an insurer.

In any disease case where the injury is not immediately apparent following exposure, particularly asbestos where the latency period of the disease can be up to 40 years or more it is necessary to track down previous employers and their employers liability insurers. That means there has to be a comprehensive register to identify them or a fund to fill the gaps.

In 1999 members of the ABI agreed to hold information on policies for 60 years in a searchable database. A DWP review of the scheme from 2006 to 2007 shows that this voluntary code does not help in most cases to trace insurers.

Tom Jones, director of policy and public affairs at Thompsons Solicitors said: “These latest figures prove the ABI scheme is simply not working.

“The industry has clearly taken the voluntary nature of this code too literally. It is not living up to its responsibilities and is letting down thousands of innocent workers. There should be a 100% success rate on post 1999 enquiries.

“Dying men don’t have time for the ABI to sort itself out. There should be a national scheme run under the Compensation Act or the Compensation Recovery Unit that mirrors what is on offer to the victim of an uninsured driver.

“Like motor insurance EL insurance is compulsory, they are both captive markets. Inevitably insurers will bleat about premium rises but there is an unanswerable logic here. What is good enough for the motor insurance market is good enough for the workers.”

Mr Jones added:

“It appears that no insurer but the most responsible is going to put their hands up voluntarily to a liability. Others must be simply too incompetent to keep accurate records. Whilst the tracing scheme remains voluntary the ABI will be shamed that so many of its members fall into the categories of irresponsible or incompetent.”