This week, the Guardian reported that Helen Newlove, Victims’ Commissioner, has found that victims of crime are traumatised and frustrated by the process of claiming compensation. So much so, the process could re-trigger the trauma of the crime.
Unfortunately, this is not breaking news to people who work in the sector.
Victims of violent crime can claim compensation from an authority called the CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority). The compensation they receive is not paid by the perpetrators of the crime but by a government body. Compensation is based on a fixed tariff, where each injury has its own fixed ‘price’. No loss of earnings can be claimed until you have been off for 6 months. Claims must (usually) be made within 2 years.
Applications to the scheme are made via an online form. Once upon a time, it was possible to get Legal Aid to help you with making an application. From that, a system of very modest fixed fees for professional assistance was introduced. Now, that both legal aid and modest fee structures have been abolished, the government suggests that you may get support from a local charity or instruct a solicitor on a ‘No Win No Fee’ basis.
The application itself is very detailed and involves a great amount of input about the crime you suffered and the injury you sustained. Once the application is made, the process is far from over. It can take months, sometimes years, to get a response from the agency. It’s our experience, that these responses can often require appealing, reviewing or challenging.
There are circumstances where people are denied compensation as there has been a misinterpretation of their circumstances. For example, you are not entitled to compensation from the CICA if you have a criminal record of your own, but only if the conviction is ‘unspent’. A ‘spent’ conviction however means that sufficient time has passed and you are no longer legally obliged to declare the conviction. Also, injuries are misunderstood or underestimated. Unless these mistakes are challenge, the already-meagre tariff owed to you could be further reduced.
Victims of crime can turn to victims charities to help them make these applications, but not all areas are well-served by such charities. They are also not a substitute for professional help, despite doing their very best to plug the gap.
A lawyer must stand between the parties and add an element of objectivity. It’s one of the things we’re trained to do and it’s a position we are very used to adopting. If you have been affected by a crime of violence, having an intermediary who can discuss the process, interpret the forms and challenge the CICA in an objective way is worthwhile.
I agree with critics that say the CICA system is slow, complicated and leads to very unsatisfactory awards. Surely if law makers decide that victims of crime are entitled to compensation from the state for the injury that they’ve suffered, they should also be entitled to professional help to maximise their chances of getting the correct award. They should also be afforded the support to prevent re-living the incident, over and over again during the application process.