Compensation to former coal miners suffering from lung diseases seem likely to top £1bn.
The Department of Trade and Industry agreed this month to make interim payments of £2,000 to 5,000 men afflicted with emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma.
These cases represent about a fifth of the outstanding claims. Final payments averaging £18,000 to the six individuals who won a High Court action in January where the judge ruled that British Coal was at least partly responsible for their condition suggest the total bill for current claims will be around £450m.
Further claims seem likely to more than double this figure. About 50,000 former and present miners draw disability benefit, and many widows and children are expected to demand compensation.
Law firms representing the former miners and their dependants are currently trying to agree a system for processing claims rapidly and easily with the Department of Trade and Industry.