We have set out below answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions. These are in relation to points that have not been addressed in other parts of the website. If you have any questions that are not answered on other parts of the website or below, do not hesitate to contact Jonathan Zimmern or Jamie Green at Fieldfisher on 0207 861 4000, who will be happy to answer them for you.
1 How long will it take for my claim to be processed?
The answer to this question depends on the facts of the case, although claims usually take between 4-9 months to be ready to be considered by the Trustees. Much will depend on the quality of the information that is submitted to Fieldfisher. Sometimes, when a claim is submitted, details of the people who potentially qualify for compensation under the Compensation Scheme are not provided. Because compensation is potentially available to a wide range of family members, it is necessary for all family members to be contacted to ascertain whether they are entitled to make a claim and, if so, whether they wish to do so. Also, claims often take longer to process if for example there is inadequate evidence of earnings to support a claim by dependants of a victim for dependency.
2 Why do family members have to be contacted?
The Trustees have a duty to comply with the terms of the Trust Deed. As mentioned above, there is a wide range of potential recipients of compensation, which arises from the wide definition of “Qualifier” in the Trust Deed. Some payments, for example £5,000 or £10,000 for Experience of the Family and £5,000 in cases where the family have given significant care, can be shared amongst various family members. It is therefore necessary to identify who should be included in the payment, and to contact them. Unfortunately, there have been cases where some family members have tried to prevent other family members being contacted, even though they have a valid claim.
3 Are the Trustees or Fieldfisher part of the Government?
The Trustees have been appointed by the Secretary of State for Health. They form an independent public body, and are certainly not in any way part of the Government. Fieldfisher have been appointed as Secretariat (i.e. to provide legal advice and administrative support) and are an independent firm of solicitors. The Trustees and Fieldfisher may, on occasion, contact the Department of Health for guidance on the interpretation and application of the Trust Deed. They may also contact those who negotiated the Scheme on behalf of the families’ solicitors for the same purpose. However it is the Trustees that have sole responsibility for making decisions in relation to all claims for compensation.
4 Why do we have to provide details of expenses and care etc? Why can’t we just be paid compensation?
The Trust Deed does not allow for payment to be made simply upon receipt of confirmation of vCJD. The Trust Deed sets out a number of payments that can be made under the Scheme, and each has its own specific requirements that have to be met. The Trustees, being accountable for the funds that have been made available, are obliged to only make payments in accordance with the Trust Deed. Also, when the Scheme was initially negotiated between the Department of Health and representatives of the family group at that time, the families did not wish to receive flat payments, but wanted payments to reflect the facts and circumstances of a particular case.
5 Do we have to appoint our own solicitors, or can our claim be handled by Fieldfisher alone?
The Trustees and Fieldfisher, welcome direct contact from family members, and have processed a number of claims in full to date. Direct contact with Fieldfisher can speed up the process, particularly as they have a good understanding of how the Trustees will deal with cases. In the majority of cases, it should not be necessary for a family to have their own solicitor.
6 Would we get more compensation if we sued through the Courts?
It is recognised that Compensation paid under the Scheme is in many respects greater than the payment of damages which would be awarded by a Court.
7 Why some payments may be refused?
The reason why some payments are refused is because they are outside the terms of the Trust Deed. The Trustees have a duty to comply with the terms of the Trust Deed, and can only make payments that fall within its terms. Solicitors preparing claims for families should ensure that claims are only put forward that are within the terms of the Trust Deed. This will prevent families’ expectations being raised unrealistically. To be successful, claims must also be supported by appropriate evidence.
8 After the claim has been considered by the Trustees, when will I receive payment?
After the Trustees’ meeting, there is a considerable amount of administration to be dealt with, including recording decisions and updating documents. These documents are then circulated to the Trustees for approval. In the meantime, Fieldfisher prepare detailed letters to the families which set out the details of the Trustees’ decisions and Forms of Acknowledgement. After the documents have been approved by the Trustees, the long letters with enclosed Forms of Acknowledgement will be sent to the families. The Forms of Acknowledgement simply acknowledge that the recipient will be receiving funds in due course, and need to be signed and returned to Fieldfisher. Cheques can then be released. This part of the process, i.e. from the Trustees’ meeting to cheques being released, usually takes about 4-5 weeks.
9 Why do I have to be seen by a Psychiatrist to make a claim for psychiatric condition that gives rise to particular financial and emotional hardship?
The reason for this arises from the wording of the Trust Deed, which at clause 4.3 states that the family member has to have suffered “an identifiable psychiatric condition falling within the definitions contain in ICD-I or DSM-IV (or their clinical equivalents) lasting longer than a calendar month… which… has been caused or materially aggravated by the fact that the victim has contract vCJD…”
You will note that the Trust Deed requires there to have been an identifiable psychiatric condition falling within one of the definitions. The Trustees, not being psychiatrists, are not able to decide whether a person has suffered a psychiatric condition without medical guidance. For the single sum payment of £5,000 as a result of having suffered an identifiable psychiatric condition, the Trustees have decided that a diagnosis from the Claimant’s GP will be sufficient.
Additional amounts can be paid in cases where the identifiable psychiatric condition gives rise to particular financial or emotional hardship. Because these additional amounts are higher than the single sum payment of £5,000, and are limited to cases where there has been particular hardship, a report from a psychiatrist is usually required. It is open to you to put forward a claim without a report from a psychiatrist, although it is unlikely that this will meet the requirements in the Trust Deed and will therefore probably fail.
The Trustees recognise that some family members may not wish to be seen by a psychiatrist, and in some cases this may mean that it is better not to make a claim at all, bearing in mind that only a minority of such claims is likely to be successful. The Trustees understand that it was hoped when the Scheme was established that family members would benefit from seeing a psychiatrist, and that it could lead to counselling or other treatment being provided.
10 Can solicitors’ fees and other professionals fees be paid from the fund?
The Trustees of the vCJD Main Trust are only permitted to reimburse those costs which fall within the definition of clause 7.1 of the Trust Deed dated 12 February 2010.
This provides that the Trustees may pay out of the Main Fund such sums as they may in their discretion think fit to reimburse a Beneficiary where that Beneficiary has reasonably spent money or incurred liabilities after the date of the original Trust Deed (15/03/02) “in making representations to or in answering enquiries from the Trustees or in undergoing or arranging for medical or other inspections in relation to any actual or potential interest” under the Scheme.
The Trustees have no discretion to reimburse professional costs which do not fall within this definition or which were incurred before 15 March 2002.
11 Are Fieldfisher and the Trustees fees paid from the fund?
Yes. The Trust Deed at clause 11 states that the Trustees can “obtain and pay for such professional or other assistance as they require.” As mentioned elsewhere, Fieldfisher has been appointed Secretariat and advisor to the Trustees.
12 Why do statistics regarding the number of vCJD Victims differ?
We are aware that the statistics in relation to the number of Victims of vCJD available on the Department of Health’s website differ from the number of Victims of whom Fieldfisher and the Trustees of the vCJD Compensation Scheme are aware.
The reason for this discrepancy is that different diagnostic criteria are used by the vCJD Trust and the Department of Health to confirm the diagnosis of vCJD. The Trust Deed for the vCJD Compensation Scheme provides that a diagnosis of vCJD has to be confirmed on the balance-of-probabilities (i.e. 51% likely) in order to qualify for compensation. However, the National CJD Surveillance Unit (NCJDSU), which produces the statistics used by the Department of Health, follows more stringent criteria laid down by the World Health Organisation.
The above means that fewer people are classified as suffering from vCJD by the Department of Health than by the Compensation Scheme.
Additionally the vCJD Trust accepts claims for compensation if the victim has lived in the UK for an aggregate of not less than five years between 1982 and 1996. However, the NCJDSU’s statistics do not account for any cases of vCJD outside the UK.