Worker wins landmark stress payout

A FORMER housing officer made legal history yesterday when she was awarded more than pounds 67,000 compensation for work-related stress caused by a job transfer.

Lawyers believe it is the first time an employer has accepted liability in a British court for stress-induced injury.

Beverley Lancaster, 44, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, sued Birmingham City Council after falling ill with depression and becoming too demoralised to continue working as a housing official in a neighbourhood office.

Frances Kirkham, the city's county court assistant recorder, said she accepted that Mrs Lancaster's job had led to her psychiatric illness. The pounds 67,491 compensation covers loss of wages, future loss of earnings and present and future prescription charges.

The court heard how Mrs Lancaster had an exemplary work record for 21 years until 1993, when she was moved from her position as draughtsman to be a housing officer at Sutton Coldfield Neighbourhood Office. Her workload increased, she worked without the administrative support given to others in the same position and for almost a year she did the work of two people while the council failed to fill a vacancy. Her problems were compounded, the court heard, by public contact, which was often intimidating and abusive.

Her barrister, Kevin O'Donovan, said: "It was so totally different she did not cope at all."

The stress forced Mrs Lancaster to take long bouts of sick leave until she was retired on medical grounds in 1997. Her psychiatrist, Dr Alfred White, said Mrs Lancaster had developed depression and a severe state of anxiety.

Yesterday Mrs Lancaster told of how she felt she was "being buried under a mountain of paperwork" and that Sunday nights before work left her with "an impending feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach". She said: "It was like a downward spiral - it made me feel like I was in a hole with no key to open the door. I would break down in tears.

"I was expected to be a Jack-of-all-trades and not shown how to do the job properly. I was given a position but never received the training to be able to carry it out properly."

The case has important ramifications for a host of similar work-related stress claims.

Unison, the public service union, said it had set a precedent, in that stress could now be viewed in the same terms as a physical injury. Unison's chairman of legal services, David Cooper, said: "Initially it was quite difficult to bring the case to court because people are quite dismissive of stress at work. But now employers know that if they damage the minds of their employees, they will have to pay out in the same way as if they did not repair the stairs and someone fell down and broke a leg."

The TUC has said more than 460 cases are currently before the courts and Unison says it is investigating up to 7,000 complaints of stress among its 1.3 million members. Recent estimated put the annual cost to British industry of days lost to stress at pounds 6.4bn.

The mental health charity Mind said the decision served as a warning to employers.

Just Another Day at The Office for Mrs Lancaster

8am: Arrives at Sutton Coldfield Neighbourhood Office. There was no job share cover last Friday so up to 20 cases were left outstanding over the weekend. Paperwork covers anti-social tenants and homelessness.

8.30am: Office opens for telephone calls. Mrs Lancaster's direct line rings every four to five minutes. She cannot complete casework because she has no assistant to answer calls. Is abused on the phone by angry caller.

9am: Front counter opens to callers. Mrs Lancaster has a queue of about a dozen tenants to see before office shuts at 1pm. Deals with homeless first. "They were usually pretty frustrated and became quite vicious."

1-2pm: Appointments each take up to half-an-hour. Mrs Lancaster misses lunch.

2.15pm: Cup of tea.

2.30-3.45pm: Council priority is to re-fill empty homes. Mrs Lancaster has appointment to show a family around a house. No assistant housing officer to complete letting contract so she does the work.

4pm: The 20 "overnight" cases still unfinished and now Mrs Lancaster must deal with the day's mail of about a dozen inquiries from local MPs, Citizens Advice Bureau, complaints, requests for repairs, arrears and internal mail from housing director.

5.15pm: Phones stop but work still outstanding so again Mrs Lancaster asks childminder to stay on.

6.30pm: Leaves work.

Gary Finn

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam