Compensation and support for victims of crime - Victim Support's response
For many people, compensation can help in the recovery after a crime. However, for some the CICS compounds - not helps - the harm caused. We are very concerned, for example, that the needs of the poorest victims are not met. Under Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) rules, a compensation award is treated as capital even though compensation from this source is only for pain and suffering. This can have serious consequences for victims who receive means-tested benefits, such as Income Support. Under current rules, a victim's state benefits may be reduced if they receive an award which takes their savings to over £3,000. However, the benefits will be stopped altogether, if the award takes their saving to over £8,000.
Victim Support does not accept the argument that somebody should be denied financial support from the state if they are also awarded criminal injuries compensation. Social security benefits and criminal injuries compensation clearly serve different purposes. Benefits are intended to help cover the cost of living but compensation is paid to ease the burdens after a crime, and to help reduce pain and suffering.
The Government has recommended that victims who are in receipt of benefits should place their award in trust. However, it is costly to set up and administer a trust and there are severe restrictions on how money paid out of the trust can be spent. This means that the poorest victims are still treated unfavourably. In effect, the value of compensation as a public expression of sympathy is almost completely undermined.
The Department of Work and Pensions has told Victim Support that 'whilst the government does have considerable sympathy for people who have suffered as a result of crime ... it believes that it would be inappropriate to have different rules for the treatment of capital according to the circumstances in which it has been received'5. In fact, the DWP does apply different rules. For example, people who get compensation as a result of being infected with Hepatitis C following an NHS blood transfusion are still entitled to receive benefits.
Victim Support believes that criminal injuries compensation, as an award for pain and suffering, should be exempt from social security capital rules. In other words, the award of compensation should be completely disregarded for assessing entitlement to benefits.
- At present, bereaved relatives only qualify for a mental injury (in addition to the normal bereavement award) if they can demonstrate that they were either present when a loved one was injured or they were involved in the immediate aftermath. This requirement focuses on the circumstances of the 'shock' rather than the consequences. Thus, bereaved relatives who suffer a mental injury after being informed of the death by a police officer will not qualify for an award. We believe the fact of the mental injury alone should be sufficient for eligibility to compensation. The proximity of the applicant to the victim at the time they were killed should be irrelevant.
- Victims who are incapable of giving consent in law because they are under the age of 16 may be denied compensation if they are deemed to have acquiesced in the sexual acts. We are aware of cases where there was evidence of grooming or an abuse of trust yet the victim is denied compensation. Although we accept that it would be inappropriate to award compensation to, say, a 15 year-old who had genuinely consensual sex with a 17 year-old partner, the rules should be clarified so that vulnerable victims are not denied the compensation they deserve. This rule is completely inconsistent with the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
- A child whose parent is murdered may be denied compensation if their parent had criminal convictions. We believe it is wrong to deny a child the recognition and financial assistance they need because of their parent's conduct. The same problem applies to parents whose murdered children had convictions.
- The CICS reimburses funeral expenses but relatives often do not have the money to pay for the funeral and then claim it back. Relatives should be able to apply for direct payment of funeral expenses.
- Many victims incur costs shortly after a crime but may have to wait months, or years, for a compensation award. Once eligibility is established, but before quantum has been finalised, applicants can apply for an interim award. We believe the CICA should offer interim awards whenever eligibility is established but a delay is expected in deciding the final amount of the compensation.
- The rule excluding compensation for injuries sustained before 1 October 2019 where the victim and offender were living together at the time should be abolished. This means that victims of historical child abuse committed before this date are denied compensation. Though the crimes may have been committed years ago, many victims are still suffering the impact of the crimes today. For example, the pain may resurface when the victim has a child of their own. These victims understandably feel as if they are being penalised for living with their abuser.
We are also aware of cases where an older sibling is denied compensation because they were able to leave home prior to October 1979, even though they suffered years of abuse. Their younger siblings may however qualify for compensation because the abuse continued after this date. We believe this is grossly unfair. We are not persuaded by the arguments relied on by the government to justify its continued existence, namely that the rule should not be changed retrospectively, and that the costs of doing so are insupportable.
5. Letter from Department of Work and Pensions, Ministerial Correspondence Unit, 23 January 2019
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