EMPLOYERS in the North-west could face a surge of claims under new disability protection regulations, warn legal experts.

The Disability Discrimination Bill is expected to come into force in 2006 and will extend disability protection to include a larger number of people with progressive conditions such as cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis and mental illness.

Fiona Holdsworth at north west law firm Kippax Beaumont Lewis, said: "There is likely to be far more complicated and frequent cases at tribunals with many employers expected to face costly claims when the Bill comes into force. Under current Disability Discrimination laws, it can be difficult for progressive conditions to meet the criteria to classify sufferers as disabled.

"Additionally, under the new Bill people with mental conditions will no longer have to prove that their condition is clinically recognised. The danger is that conditions such as stress may qualify as a disability and many claims may be pushed through under the protection of these new laws".

Protection will be based on the effects of the condition rather than its name after the Department for Work and Pensions changed the draft bill following recommendations by a joint parliamentary committee.