15 Jul 2015

State care abuse victims feel fast-track pressure

6:38 am on 15 July 2015

People who were abused while in state care say they feel under pressure to accept fast-track compensation offers, for fear of receiving nothing.

Close-up of a woman reading a letter

Photo: 123RF

The Ministry of Social Development is offering historical claimants the option to have their abuse claims settled on face value, and after some fact-checking they will be paid out and offered an apology.

Eighty percent of people offered a fast-track offer so far have accepted it.

One woman, who wanted to be known as Debs, was abused in foster care as a child.

She lodged a compensation claim with the Ministry of Social Development nine years ago and this year was offered $5000 under the fast-track system.

"When the mail came through and I opened it and read it was $5000, I was gutted, and refused to take it. My life is worth more than five grand after what I went through."

Debs said she was low on money so took the offer, but that was partly because she worried that, if she did not, she could end up with nothing.

Her payment was one of the 401 fast-track offers made so far. Of those, there have been 307 payouts totalling nearly $5.8m.

Daryl Brougham said he put in his claim in 2011 for abuse suffered from when he was aged from three months to 18 years old.

He accepted an offer of $70,000 this year - which he said barely covered the medical bills caused by the abuse.

Mr Brougham said when he started talking about his payout, others told him of their much lower fast-track offers.

"Emails of people saying: 'Daryl, I did that too and I was only offered $2000, $5000, $7000'.

"And a lot of them come back to me and say 'Daryl, I took it, because that was the only option I had. I couldn't afford a lawyer and what else am I supposed to do?'"

Anne Tolley

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said it would be "disappointing" if people felt pressured. Photo: RNZ

The Labour Party's justice spokesperson, Jacinda Ardern, said the fast-track offers she had seen left the impression the claimants could end up with nothing if they did not take it.

"The way in which the offer has been made, certainly as I've heard from claimants themselves, had left them with a feeling that if they did not take this offer they could be waiting a very long time and possibly not settle at all."

The Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, defended the process, saying claimants were clearly told they could ignore the offer and opt for the full process.

"It would be disappointing if people felt that they were under pressure.

"From the correspondence I've had, there are a large number of people that are really grateful for the opportunity to have their case recognised, and an apology, and to have the matter settled so that they could move on."

The fast-track offers so far had only been made to people without legal representation and Mrs Tolley said those with lawyers would get offers soon.

But some of those who were abused said the Government was deliberately targeting people who were more likely to accept an offer first, so that it could cross them off the list.

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