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Reforms needed within the CICA Scheme

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Victims Commissioner recommends reforms to the CICA Scheme

Baroness Newlove, Victims’ Commissioner (VC) for England & Wales has commissioned a report into the Operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (“the CICA”).  Her recently published findings make familiar reading for those of us who deal with the CICA.

The CICA is a taxpayers funded scheme to compensate victims of violent crime, including those who have suffered historic sexual assault and abuse.  It is a tariff-based system that means Awards are made according to the nature of the assault and the effect upon the individual.  The awards can range from as low as £1000 to £500,000 for the most severe cases.

At Robsonshaw solicitors we are specialists in helping survivors make claims for compensation to the CICA arising from historical sexual abuse.

The system of claiming compensation requires that the survivor complete an application form giving personal details including the nature of the abuse and the effect of the abuse upon the applicant.  As often as not we find that survivors are, not unnaturally, distressed at having to relive their experiences.  This is particularly galling as the CICA always ask the police to disclose its files and therefore will obtain all the information it needs about the abuse from the police.  Regrettably we also encounter long delays in the processing of claims by the CICA, considerable uncertainty as to whether a claim will succeed or not and an administrative system that does not respond to enquiries appropriately and often leaves applicants thoroughly confused.

The Victims’ Commissioner has looked into the operation of the CICA. She has called for wholesale reform of the Scheme so that victims who apply are not frustrated or alienated by the process.  In her new review, Baroness Newlove notes that many victims claiming criminal injuries compensation find the process so stressful that it can retrigger their original trauma.

One of the main problems identified by the review is the low awareness of the scheme amongst the general population and in particular those who are eligible for an award. It is often a matter of pot luck whether a survivor knows about the CICA scheme and can be advised to make a claim.  The CICA does not advertise its existence so as to inform those who are eligible and our experience is the CICA does little to reach out to those who are entitled to an award.

Only just over a third of victims taking part in the review reported they were informed of their entitlement to claim compensation by police.  This means that almost 2/3rds of people entitled to a CICA award may not make an application within the strict time limits.

Nearly 40% of applicants need a friend or organisation to help them navigate the process of compensation.  Support may be available through victim support services, the CAB, the police and other charitable organisations.  However, even if these organisations are available they are generally not legally trained to advise on CICA claims and cannot expect to know the legal intricacies of the CICA process.  At Robsonshaw we have helped numerous clients who have under-settled their CICA claim and who do not know how to re-open their claim.  By instructing a solicitor they may have recourse to a proper award.

The CICA operates strict rules that most applicants will not be aware of until it is too late.  There is a strict two-year time limit for submitting an application and although the CICA has a discretion in certain circumstances to extend the otherwise strict time limit in almost all cases the CICA will reject a claim if it is late and put the onus on the applicant to show why the claim should proceed.

In complicated cases involving psychiatric illness the applicant has to obtain their own medical evidence before they are is entitled to claim for mental injury. Most applicants are wholly unaware of how to go about this and often settle for a much lower awards for the physical injury, rather than pursuing a psychological injury.

We deal with a substantial number of clients who have applied to medically re-open their claim on the grounds that psychiatric injury was not diagnosed at the time of the award and that since the date of the award the applicant’s health has deteriorated.

In certain circumstances applicants are entitled to apply for loss of earnings claim.  The CICA will not assist an applicant to formulate an appropriate schedule of loss. Rather the CICA will expect an applicant to recognise when a loss of earnings claim is appropriate.  The CICA will also expect an applicant to be able to adduce complicated loss of earnings data and data concerning benefits and then prepare a schedule of loss incorporating the CICA’s own guidance on discount factors and accelerated relief reductions.  An almost impossible task for the lay applicant.

The CICA has a number of rules that seem outdated by today’s standards.  The CICA still relies upon the same roof rule that prejudices survivors, particularly victims of sexual abuse who lived with the perpetrator when the abuse took place. Although the Court of Appeal has recently provided guidance on the same roof rule, the CICA are still not accepting claims and require applicants to explain why the rule should not be applied.

The CICA will often reduce awards to bereaved families due to the “conduct” of the deceased victim.  Something completely beyond their control. 

The CICA also excludes from the scheme victims who have criminal convictions.  This is outdated as we have a better understanding how certain crimes, such as modern-day slavery, or sexual exploitation of children, can push some survivors into criminality through no fault of their own.

The CICA states that an applicant does not need legal representation.  This is true but our overwhelming experience is that applicants often under settle their CICA claim in ignorance of the potential value of their award.  In our experience, the CICA do not assist applicants in advising them how to maximise their award.  

At Robsonshaw solicitors we will always advise a client whether he or she has a straightforward claim and one which they will be able to submit and progress themselves.  If the application relates to psychiatric illness or involves a loss of earnings claim, then an applicant would be well advised to instruct specialist solicitors.  

As Baroness Newlove said:

“I believe criminal injuries compensation is important in helping vulnerable victims cope and recover from the most brutal of crimes. Yet my Review shows that the process of making their claim, which should strengthen victims, can have the opposite effect. The process of claiming is often having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing. I worry that we are treating it as a tick box exercise, without recognising the emotional needs of those making claims”.

I want to see a criminal injuries compensation scheme that supports victims in coping and recovering from their crimes, supports the most vulnerable victims in making their claims and is accepted as an integral part of the support package for victims. We must not lose sight that victims are likely to be suffering from trauma. It is important that this service, which is there to support them, recognises this and treats them with the empathy and care they deserve.”

If you have any experience of the CICA, or just want a confidential no obligation chat about your CICA claim, then please call Robert Shaw direct on 01392 345332 or email robert@robsonshaw.uk

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