‘Special Financial Assistance’ for Victorian victims halved since
4th May 2017
Between 1988 and 1996, a victim of crime in Victoria could access up to $20,000 in Special Financial Assistance from a government scheme. Today, the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) can only offer victims of the worst crimes, with the worst outcomes, up to $10,000 for any grief, distress, trauma or injury. Special Financial Assistance is described as ‘a symbolic expression by the State of the community’s sympathy’ and in the worst circumstances $10,000 is an insult. Clearly, we need to rethink how our community responds to injustices and suffering.
Victims of acts of violence which occur in Victoria can apply to VOCAT for assistance. The assistance provided by VOCAT helps victims recover from the effects of violent crimes. This is particularly important for victims who cannot obtain compensation directly from offenders or in cases where police do not have enough evidence to prosecute the offender.
Victims of crime can seek reimbursement of clothing which was lost or damaged, lost earnings, and medical expenses. In most cases they can also access counselling. In exceptional circumstances, safety-related expenses or expenses which are incurred to assist recovery may be paid. All of these expenses are subject to restrictions and the total financial assistance available for these expenses is $60,000.
Special Financial Assistance is only available to victims who have suffered significant adverse effects. It is a condolence. For this reason, it is acceptable that the amount available will not fully compensate a victim for their suffering. What is not acceptable, however, is that the maximum amount which can be awarded has been reduced and not fully re-instated.
In 1973 the Crimes Compensation Tribunal was formed to deliver assistance to victims. It operated under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1972 (Vic). The maximum Special Financial Assistance available was $3,000, and thereafter increased incrementally. Between 28 October 1981 and 1984 the maximum was $10,000. This is the same maximum amount available today. When the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1983 (Vic) commenced on 21 March 1984 the maximum dropped to $7,500.
In 1987 when the Parliamentary Legal and Constitutional Committee was considering whether this amount should increase, it commented that ‘$7,500 … is woefully inadequate’. Between the end of 1988 and the end of 1996, victims who had suffered significant adverse effects could be awarded $20,000 in Special Financial Assistance.
The Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) commenced on 1 July 1997 and there was no allowance for Special Financial Assistance. From 1 January 2000, up to $7,500 became available. Almost ten years ago, on 1 July 2007, this was increased to $10,000 – half the historical high. The amount has not increased in ten years, amounting to further reductions in real terms.
Victorians are relatively lucky to have a scheme which reimburses victims for financial losses. However, Special Financial Assistance is a response to intangible losses; distress, emotional turmoil, and suffering. Special Financial Assistance of $10,000 in the worst conceivable cases is a ‘drop into a dry well’. Victoria needs to do better. When people become victims due to violent members of our community, they should not also become victims of an insult by a government scheme.
Sarah Thorn is a Lawyer at Adviceline Injury Lawyers and is an expert in traffic accidents, public liability and victims of crime.