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Child saying stop

The National Redress Scheme, which came into operation in July 2018 as a direct recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is continuing to fail to provide abuse survivors with adequate or timely compensation. Many are left feeling let down and cheated by a scheme that promised them support but has not always delivered.

We have seen a sharp increase in survivors coming forward to pursue civil action after accepting meagre payments through the National Redress Scheme. What many don’t realise is that once redress through the scheme has been accepted, your legal rights are significantly limited and you are no longer able to pursue other legal avenues including a civil abuse claim against the institution, which, much of the time ,offers more significant entitlements for physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

What are your options?

There are two key avenues available to survivors of childhood sexual abuse; a civil claim (which may or may not involve an application to the Courts) or an application to the National Redress Scheme.

We have seen clients who have been subjected to atrocious abuse for years on end only receive payments of $30,000 to $50,000 through the scheme. In reality, they would likely have been entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars via a civil claim.

The National Redress Scheme awards compensation based on a matrix which categorises abusive experiences into three categories: exposure, contact and penetrative abuse. Depending on the nature of the abuse, the payments are capped at either $20,000, $50,000 or $150,000 respectively, with many survivors receiving compensation below the maximum.

In particular, there is a concerning lack of transparency about how the scheme awards recognition of exceptional circumstances, which carries with it a payment of up to $50,000. It’s disappointing that only survivors who fit within the ‘penetrative abuse’ category are eligible to apply for this.

The second year review of the scheme, highlights the inconsistent approach to payments and says the exceptional circumstances criteria being limited to penetrative abuse “disregards the very serious and long-term effects of other categories of serious sexual abuse”.

The Federal Government has only committed to actioning 25 of the review’s 38 recommendations, while they continue to consider the remainder. This is another blow to survivors and the countless organisations who support them as the scheme continues to operate inconsistently. While we welcome the decision to allow vulnerable survivors to access advance compensation payments of up to $10,000, we do not believe the current maximum amount available under the National Redress Scheme is significant enough given the severe level of abuse many have suffered.

The review did recommend governments stepping in as funders of last resort when an institution is defunct or cannot pay, improvements to the consistency of decision-making, additional specialist support services for applicants, bespoke outreach services and more communication about progress of applications and how determinations are reached.

Abuse survivors may still have civil entitlements while organisations delay or refuse joining

Another key flaw of the scheme is that it is an ‘opt in’ program, whereby individual organisations have to agree to take part. Despite operating for three years, some organisations are still resisting joining, including Fairbridge Society, Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services and the Ballarat Christian Brethren Church or Christian Brethren Trust.

We recommend all survivors of abuse obtain specialised legal advice prior to accepting any offer through the National Redress Scheme to ensure they do not accept offers that fall far below what they may be entitled to through a civil claim.

We represent clients in nearly every state and territory and are currently speaking with new clients in-person (COVID-19 restrictions allowing), over the phone or by video link such as Zoom or Skype.

Your first appointment is free** of charge and there is no obligation to carry on with a civil claim if you don’t want to. If you’d like Slater and Gordon to represent you, we act on a ‘no win, no fee*’ basis, meaning there is no financial burden on you while we investigate and conduct your claim.

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

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