National Redress Scheme Review
Public Hearings to Review the National Redress Scheme begin this Month in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle
In September 2019 the Australian Parliament announced a review of the National Redress Scheme. The review is an opportunity for members of the public to provide their feedback and express their concerns of their experiences of the operation of the National Redress Scheme.
The review will be undertaken by the Joint Select Committee of Implementation of the National Redress Scheme and will hear from participants around the country in Melbourne, Ballarat, Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane and Perth.
What is the National Redress Scheme?
The National Redress Scheme came into effect on 1 July 2018 in response to recommendations from The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It reviews claims made by survivors of child sexual abuse and provides redress in the form of counselling, apologies and payments to eligible persons in accordance with a prescribed assessment framework guide. The National Redress Scheme is a limited scheme and will run for 10 years.
National Redress Scheme Payments
Criticism has been raised about the payments available to applicants. Whilst the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made recommendations for the maximum payment available to be $200,000. Under the implemented National Redress Scheme however, payments are capped at a maximum of $150,000.
In many instances this is amount if significantly less than the amounts which can be obtained by pursuing a common law claim. That is, pursuing a claim of damages through the court system.
The National Redress Scheme Payments Assessment Framework Guide
The below guide is used by the independent assessors of the National Redress Scheme to determine what payment to make to an applicant.
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To receive the maximum amount payable, there has to have been penetrative abuse, that has had significant impact on the applicant, as well as further non-sexual abuse, which occurred in a living situation that made the applicant more vulnerable at the time of the abuse and is also considered to have been extreme circumstances of sexual abuse.
As at 1 November 2019, the average National Redress Scheme payment was $80,466. Whilst each situation will be different and result in a different award of damage, this figure is substantially lower than most litigated claims or indeed, claims that are settled before court proceedings are filed.
It should be noted that any National Redress Scheme payment received will first deduct any previous amounts received from Victims Services or any legal claims previously obtained. For example, if you were awarded $40,000 but had previously received $10,000 from Victims Services, the National Redress Scheme payment you would receive would be $30,000.
The maximum amount available for counselling or psychological services under the National Redress Scheme payments is $5,000. That amount equates to a maximum of less than 20 sessions with a psychologist under the current APS (Australian Psychology Society) rates for psychologists of $251 inclusive of GST.
Alternative to Court
The National Redress Scheme is an alternative to pursuing legal action through the court system. When an applicant is presented with an offer by the National Redress Scheme for redress in the form of a payment, they have the opportunity to either accept or reject that offer.
In accepting such an offer, an applicant will sign away their rights to make any further claims against the organisation for the abuse they suffered. This will prevent an applicant from the pursuing a claim through the courts.
However, if you do not accept a payment, you are not prevented from exploring your legal options through the court system. The vast majority of cases (estimated to be in excess of 90%) never make it to a court hearing/trial as they are settled prior to hearing.
It must be noted that applicants have 6 months to decide whether to accept a payment from the National Redress Scheme. An applicant can also apply for an extension of time, but if they do not accept the offer within 6 months, the offer will lapse and that will be the end of their claim through the National Redress Scheme. They will not be able to make another claim through the scheme.
Delays – Too Slow
As well as the criticisms levelled at the payments available, many people have indicated that the process is too slow.
An update of the National Redress Scheme was provided in November of 2019 which noted that as of 1 November 2019 the National Redress Scheme had received over 5,290 applications.
814 decisions have been made, which include 708 payments totalling over $56.9 million.As at November 2019, they were currently processing over 3,470 applications.
The figures have increased from mid-2019 when criticism was levelled at the scheme as at the time less than 5% of claims had been processed. From 1 July 2019 to 1 November 2019, 477 applications were finalised, resulting in 469 payments.
A further 309 applications had not been finalised as they required additional information from the applicant.
Limitations – Institutions Fail to Sign Up
The National Redress Scheme update also noted that 604 applications are currently on hold because one or more institutions named in the application have not yet joined the National Redress Scheme.
This is a significant limitation of the National Redress Scheme payments as redress can only be made in relation to institutions that have signed up to participate in the National Redress Scheme.
Institutions have until 30 June 2020 to sign up to participate in the National Redress Scheme.
For many of the 604 applications held up by institutions failing to sign up to the National Redress Scheme, they may be able to pursue these institutions through the court system.
The government has recently been using a big stick approach to ensure institutions sign up to the National Redress Scheme by 30 June 2020, having made suggestions of reducing funding and charitable statuses of institutions.
Public Hearing Program
For those interested in attending a public hearing, the Committee has released the following dates and locations:
19 March 2020 – Melbourne
20 March 2020 – Ballarat
30 March 2020 – Sydney
31 March 2020 – Newcastle
6-7 April 2020 – Brisbane
15-16 April 2020 – Perth
Other regional locations were to be announced in due course, with information to provided on the Committee’s website, however, to date, Ballarat is the only additional location that has been added to the schedule since the public hearing program was announced.
If you would like to explore what legal options you may have beyond the National Redress Scheme with a caring and qualified legal professional, please contact our office for a confidential conversation with Ross Koffel on (02) 9267 5599.
 Table sourced from: https://guides.dss.gov.au/national-redress-guide/5/1