January 26, 2004
Sexual abuse payouts up $9m
by Sean Scanlon
ACC annual payouts to sex abuse claimants have soared
by more than than $9 million in the past three years.
Figures released to The Press under the Official Information Act show ACC
paid out $27,231,652 to claimants in the year ending last October, compared
with $17,951,300 for the same period in 2001.
Critics say the increase shows the rules for "sensitive claims" are
In April 2002 the Government introduced lump sum payments of up to $100,000
for sex abuse claims, prompting predictions from Opposition MPs that costs
At the time Christchurch law firm Wakefield
Associates launched a campaign to attract new ACC clients.
ACC says to date no-one has received a lump sum payment. But many people who
sought the big payouts following Wakefield's
publicity had got an independence allowance instead.
ACC spokesman Fraser Folster said some of the allowances were backdated,
boosting claim payments.
ACC received a total of 17,484 sensitive claims in the past three years, and
accepted 14,048. The number of accepted claims dropped from a high of 5272 in
the year ending October 2002 to 4017 last year.
The corporation pays for the counselling of sex abuse victims, along with an
independence allowance ranging from $10 to $61 a week, paid quarterly.
ACT MP Muriel Newman said the rules governing compensation claims for sex
abuse cases were not stringent enough.
"When the Government changed the legislation we warned that they would
be opening the floodgates and these figures are consistent with that
warning," she said.
"I am aware that there are quite a large number of claims that are in
the process of going for the lump sum."
She said there was no significant testing of evidence for sex abuse claims.
The number of claims was exacerbated by ACC's policy of paying out without
the victim having to name the abuser or lay any criminal complaint, Newman
It should not be ACC's role to compensate victims of crime from the levies it
ACC did disallow claims, but the test for doing so did not seem robust
enough, Newman said.
Folster said a claimant was required to visit a general practitioner or
counsellor, describing the abuse and mental injury.
ACC then asked the victim to attend a counsellor for up to three more
The counsellor would provide ACC with a report detailing the crime, the
injury and its impacts and also a treatment plan.
Folster said once the "permanency" of any mental or physical injury
had been established, it would decide the level of compensation.
ACC-appointed assessors measured injury according to internationally
recognised standards, Folster said.
"The corporation's aim is to rehabilitate claimants first, and where
that cannot be fully achieved, to then compensate those who retain a level of
impairment once treatment has been completed.
"Because the long-term effects of sexual abuse are often a mental rather
than physical injury, claimants may improve with treatment over time."
A lump sum payment would only be considered once the claimant's condition had
stabilised, Folster said.
ACC Minister Ruth Dyson said Newman had to do her homework about the system.
No lump sum payments had been made and there was nothing to back claims that
the "floodgates" had been opened.
She said lump sum compensation was for people who had serious injury with 10
per cent impairment, which was quite high.