Solicitors have handed back more than £1.5m to injured former miners under a new voluntary repayment scheme after wrongly deducting fees from miners’ government compensation awards – and this figure could rise further as the project rolls on, the Gazette can reveal. Seven law firms that handled coal health compensation claims have sent 33,000 letters to former miners, under a process instigated by the Legal Complaints Service. The letters explain that the miners may be eligible to recover success fees that were unfairly deducted from their damages awards. Some solicitors pocketed the success fees, while others passed them to miners’ unions as payment for referrals. The LCS is monitoring the repayments made by firms. It estimates that complaints triggered by the letters have led to eligible miners receiving £400 each on average. Two more firms are currently writing to former miner clients, and another two are poised to begin mailouts. The LCS estimates that 50,000 eligible miners are still to be contacted. The repayment project was rolled out nationally from last October, following a pilot in the Rother Valley area in 2007. National firm Thompsons is one of the seven firms that has already contacted former miners. Tom Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the firm, said: ‘It is only right that those firms which made deductions and put them in their back pocket – as well as being paid by the government – should repay [them] to their clients. Although all the deductions we made were paid to our union clients… we recognised the public disquiet around the issue and… wrote on a number of occasions to all clients offering them the deductions back.’ LCS chief executive Deborah Evans said that most law firms are willing to work with the LCS, but warned: ‘If any firm does not want to work with us, we will send the letters out ourselves.’ The LCS cannot name the firms involved because of confidentiality agreements.
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