Changes to NSW victim comp laws to impact battered women – ALA
10th May 2013
Victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, some abused for many years and who have debilitating physical and psychological injuries, as well as dependent children, will face an uncertain future under a Bill before NSW Parliament, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.
The Victims Rights and Support Bill 2013 will reduce from $50,000 to $15,000 the maximum lump sum compensation offered for injuries sustained in an act of violence. The changes are retrospective, in that the backlog of claims already lodged with Victims Services, but not yet determined, are to be dealt with under the amended Act.
ALA NSW Committee Member, Clifton Baker, says the changes are extremely unfair, impractical and will lead to a growing underclass of abused women forced into already overstretched refuges.
“Under the new Scheme, a victim of the most serious kind of sexual assault (ie involving multiple assailants, or years of sexual abuse since a child), is potentially entitled to a ‘recognition payment’ of a maximum of $10,000.
“Previously, this was in the range of $25,000-$50,000.” Mr Baker said.
“Many victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence rely on an eventual award of compensation to provide some financial independence, an ability to remove themselves from a violent home situation. These women may in fact end up stuck in situations of domestic violence, or living in refuges.”
“One victim I know of was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a family member when they were a child, and has been previously told to expect an award of between $25,000 and $50,000 on successful outcome. They will now have to be advised that they are now only entitled to a maximum of $10,000 under the new Scheme.”
And while the Bill spruiks a more generous financial assistance benefit of up to $30,000 for loss of earnings, there are strict time limits in applying for this assistance, of two years following the act of violence or from when the victim turns 18. Further, this will only be available for victims who are able to demonstrate economic loss.
“Of the 21,000-odd claims still waiting to be processed by Victims Services, the vast majority relate to either sexual assaults, including child abuse, and domestic violence offences. So the large proportion of children and stay at home mums who fall into these categories, receive no added benefits or, at the most as children, have until they are 20 to lodge any loss of income resulting from an assault or abuse.”
“It also appears that clients whose claims have already been lodged but not yet finalised, will not be able to apply for an up-front payment of financial assistance under the new Scheme,” Mr Baker said.
“With most claims that have already been lodged, because of the serious delays in finalising cases by the Tribunal, more than 2 years have now passed since the act of violence, or the victim is now aged over 20.”
“In essence, these victims may be entitled to only a severely reduced compensation payment, and no financial assistance benefit available to them. These are some of the most vulnerable clients we see, and they are losing out entirely in yet another move by the Government’s to slash benefits.”