23 Apr 2014

UN probes ACC disability policies

10:20 pm on 23 April 2014

Advocates for people disabled through an accident are celebrating a United Nations committee inquiring into their rights and access to justice under ACC.

The issue is one of 31 questions the committee on the Rights of Persons with a Disability decided to put to New Zealand at a meeting in Geneva last week.

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Photo: PHOTO NZ

The decision appears to have been prompted by a 120-page report by injury support group Acclaim Otago, detailing a range of possible breaches of the international disability convention.

The report's lead author, Warren Forster, said on Wednesday it was a positive day for injured people in New Zealand.

"Finally, we have an international body saying to the New Zealand Government, 'There's an issue here and we'd like you to address this'. That is the first time that this has ever been done."

The UN committee is asking the Government to explain whether New Zealand law provides access to justice for people with disabilities who are going through ACC's dispute resolution process.

The question specifically mentions concerns about adequate funding, procedural fairness and reliable procedures for collecting evidence.

Acclaim Otago's spokesperson Dr Denise Powell says access to justice in disputes with ACC has been a core complaint for years and the UN's involvement is a major breakthrough.

"It's very hard fight a decision when potentially your income which would allow you to do that has been stopped. We in the past have actually surveyed people and it's a very common response that they don't take issues further because they can't afford to."

Christchurch advocate Kevin Murray says the question of fairness is an important one for thousands of injured people.

"This is real stuff, this is life and death stuff for some people. Over the years some people have committed suicide being kicked off ACC. It has a real effect on people and the quality of their lives."

Mr Murray says ACC was set up to make compensation more accessible and fair, but it is becoming less so.

ACC minister Judith Collins said on Wednesday that officials would prepare a full response for the UN.