Page last updated at 23:08 GMT, Sunday, 13 September 2009 00:08 UK

Sick miners 'are owed millions'

Miner on colliery pit head
About one in five miners' solicitors overcharged their clients

About 150,000 sick miners and their families are still owed £100m by solicitors who wrongly charged them for compensation claims, an MP says.

The lawyers - some of whom have since been struck off for malpractice - charged the miners legal fees despite costs being met by the government.

Labour MP John Mann has called on the Business Secretary Peter Mandelson to ensure they get their money back.

The miners were paid compensation for long-term lung and hand conditions.

Ten years ago, the government agreed to pay compensation to about 750,000 miners who had developed illnesses such as emphysema and Vibration White Finger, which leaves victims unable to grip.

Ministers had inherited the liabilities from the defunct National Coal Board, which had been providing miners with inadequate equipment for decades.

Action needs to be taken at Government level to ensure justice is done
Labour MP John Mann

'Huge amount'

In 2005, it emerged that about one in five of the solicitors who had represented the miners and their families had wrongly taken cuts from the compensation pay-outs.

Mr Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, said the vast majority of miners had still not got their full share of money back.

He said: "90% of those who are eligible haven't come forward.

"The average amount that the miners have got back from solicitors is £910, so we are talking about a huge amount of money that is waiting to be collected. They just have to ask for it back."

Mr Mann called on Lord Mandelson to step in because he was involved in the original compensation agreement.

He said: "Lord Mandelson should write to every claimant, telling them how they can get their money.

"It has been four-and-a-half years since the scandal rose to the surface and action needs to be taken at Government level to ensure justice is done and all miners are repaid fees that were wrongly deducted", he said.

'Dying everyday'

Mr Mann said the payouts would not cost the government a penny and would amount to a boost to the economies of former mining areas.

"The need to do it this autumn because people are dying every day. The government knows who they are, they have their names and addresses", he said.

"A simple letter from Lord Mandelson would bring a huge number of people forward.

"£100m is the absolute minimum the miners are owed. It doesn't include any compensation paid on top, which we have seen in many of the claims so far."

'Learned lessons'

Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the matter fell under the remit of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

A spokeswoman there said: "Ministers remain very concerned about solicitor misconduct and inappropriate deductions and look to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and the Legal Complaints Service for tough policing and handling of complaints.

"It's important not to lose sight of the fact that more than £4bn in compensation has been paid out over the past decade to former miners and their families.

"We have learned valuable lessons from running these schemes and we're currently working through a court process to resolve the question of liability for new health-related claims."

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