Compensation and support for victims of crime - Victim Support's response

The Government's plans

The Government's proposals are underpinned by a desire to deliver a 'better deal for victims' and a 'wider package of support to victims'. They also state that 'compensation alone does not repair the damage caused to victims'. Victim Support welcomes these principles. Victim Support has always held that victims of crime have a wide range of needs and compensation is just one way in which society can support victims.

However, though we support the development of new services to victims of crime, this should build on existing provision and not be in place of it. We are concerned that these services are to be funded, in part, by reducing the scope of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

The purpose and breadth of criminal injuries compensation

The Government does not ask for comments on the purpose of criminal injuries compensation. However, it is an issue of fundamental importance which must, we believe, be addressed.

Compensation cannot, of course, 'compensate' fully. The experience of victims is often so painful and distressing that money could never put right the harm done to them. However, criminal injuries compensation does have an important role to play in terms of recognition and financial support.

For many victims, an award of criminal injuries compensation may be the only recognition they receive. Compensation symbolises society's sympathy – it expresses the fact that society cares about what has happened to the victim. This is why compensation has been available regardless of the means of the victim.

The level of public funding for services to victims is low. Government figures show that for every pound spent on the criminal justice system, only two pence is spent on services to victims (including criminal injuries compensation). We wonder if the public would consider this an appropriate balance between the costs of dealing with offenders and providing support to victims?

Making offenders pay

Wider use of court compensation orders

Victim Support's policy is that compensation orders should be made wherever possible. As a matter of principle, we have argued, the person responsible should pay compensation. However, compensation orders have had limited success. There are a number of problems with the system as it stands:

These problems cause distress, frustration and dissatisfaction thereby undermining the potential benefit of compensation orders. We are therefore disappointed that the Government has not restated its plans to establish a fund from which the victim will be paid the full amount of compensation up front (to be recovered by the courts from the offender). Although the fund received broad support, it was abandoned on costs grounds. (Although the fund was intended to be self-financing, no money could be found for a 'float' to initiate the scheme.)

Improvements could be made by setting clearer obligations on the relevant agencies and monitoring performance. The police are required to ask victims whether they would like a compensation order to be sought on their behalf but there appears to be a problem about collecting supporting evidence. If a victim declines to seek compensation, a note should be made on the file. The Crown Prosecution Service should make sure that adequate information on compensation is recorded and should apply for compensation where the offender is convicted. The court should expect an application for a compensation order or require proof that no order is sought.

We therefore support increased use of compensation orders but we have reservations about how successful this plan will be in practice. The success of compensation orders will always be limited by the offenders' ability (and, to some extent, willingness) to pay. Our experience is that small and irregular instalments increases victim dissatisfaction.

Surcharge on convictions

Victim Support is very concerned about the plans to add a surcharge to convictions. Although the additional income, which the scheme is expected to generate, is welcome, we believe the problems outweigh the benefits.

By creating this scheme to raise additional revenue, the Government risks sending out the message that services to victims are unimportant. Crime is a social problem and society has a duty to alleviate its effects. We believe that providing support and services to victims is therefore a fundamental responsibility of government and should be covered by core state funding. The Government does not fund the health service in this way and, moreover, can fund the multi-billion pound cost of the criminal justice system from normal revenue.

This measure has met with widespread resistance as evidenced in the media. This suggests that the proposal will cause resentment amongst a significant proportion of the public. Regardless of the grounds for their resentment, it is unfair that the good work done by organisations such as Victim Support should be associated with public ill-feeling. Charities rely on public goodwill, both to recruit volunteers and to fundraise; this measure jeopardises the goodwill developed over many years.

It is also possible that victims will react negatively to the idea. By making explicit the means by which offenders will be expected to contribute to the cost of victims' services, the small sums levied may be seen as demeaning by victims. For example, the £30 which a convicted rapist or murderer will be expected to contribute will be regarded as insulting, even if this sum is not expected to be paid to the victim or their family.

It is also likely that the surcharge will fetter the discretion of the courts. At present, the court must balance the various financial penalties it can impose, prioritising compensation orders over costs and fines. The introduction of a fixed surcharge might result in a reduction in the amount of compensation ordered, where the offender has limited means.

Further, we are concerned that the planned use of surcharges as part of restorative justice is clearly inconsistent with the principles espoused in Restorative justice: the Government's strategy3 (July 2003). Restorative justice interventions have to be relevant to the individual offender and to the individual victim. A surcharge, by its nature, does not meet individual needs. The surcharge would also limit the scope for the offender to make direct reparation to the victim, if that was what both agreed. It suggests a return to the notion that restorative justice's main purpose is to reduce re-offending rather than to restore victims.

We also think it is perverse that funding for victims may depend on the commission of crime. The level of funding for victims services would vary year-on-year depending on the level of crime. Although fewer crimes might result in fewer victims, the cost of running services to victims is based on a number of factors. For example, the overall number of victims may drop but there may be an increase in victims who are likely to need considerable support. Moreover, many of the running costs of a service are constant, for example, renting office accommodation, and must be met even if the number of victims fluctuates.

A right for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to recover money from offenders

We accept that it is appropriate for the CICA to recover the money it has paid in compensation from the offender. We are, however, concerned that the victim's right to sue the offender should not be limited by this measure.

The victim should be provided with clear information as to their options. For example, the victim should be informed that the Authority will be entitled to sue for their administrative costs and that this amount will be deducted from any damages the victim might seek subsequently.

We are also concerned that, where the perpetrator and victim are known to each other, a perpetrator may seek revenge against a victim if they are sued for recovery of the compensation award.

A more focused, targeted and efficient Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

Providing appropriate, value for money support to victims

Victim Support enjoys a good relationship with the Authority and Appeals Panel. Regular contact is maintained at all levels. Staff at the CICA and CICAP are, generally, helpful and friendly. However, we believe that improvements can be made to the system. We accept, therefore, that it is appropriate to improve the efficiency of the CICA and CICAP. However, changes should prioritise the service to applicants and not simply be introduced to make savings.

We are already concerned that some applicants miss out on compensation because of the inadequacies of making decisions on paper alone. We are aware of numerous cases which have been rejected initially because inaccurate or inadequate information has been supplied to the Authority by the police. Victim Support can help to have these rejections overturned at review but only after further probing. We cannot be certain how many valid claims are turned down in this way when Victim Support is not involved. However, efforts to sift out ineligible claims carries with it the risk that eligible claims will be wrongly rejected. Care must be taken to avoid improving efficiency (in terms of volume and speed of case resolution) at the expense of decision-making quality.

Delay is still a problem for many applicants. Some applications can take years to be resolved. This may cause financial hardship and hinders the victim's recovery after a crime. Long delays are sometimes the result of valid medical/legal considerations but delays also occur because some police and medical authorities respond slowly to requests for information. Though these organisations have numerous other priorities, we believe that there should be monitored standards to provide timely, adequate and accurate information.

To ensure consistency in and wider understanding of CICA procedures we recommend the establishment of a 'users' group'. The group would be composed of CICA staff and applicants' representatives. Improved exchange of information, resulting in action points, is likely to increase efficiency and improve the service to victims. The Authority should also be under a duty to consult on changes in procedure and to notify applicants and their advisers when changes are made.

Criminal injuries that occur in the course of duty

Victim Support believes that it is the role of a responsible employer to recognise and meet the needs of employees who are victimised. We therefore recognise the potential benefits of making employers responsible for compensating employees criminally injured in the course of their duty. The avoidance of such claims may provide a financial incentive to improve workers' safety and encourage a holistic approach to the welfare of staff.

Railway trespass

It is our understanding that compensation for railway workers who witness suicides was included in the CICS at the insistence of the rail unions. It is not for Victim Support to comment on whether railway workers should receive compensation in these circumstances, but we see no basis for the CICS being the source of this compensation. Trespass on the railway is not a 'crime of violence' and it is therefore an anomaly for it to be covered by the CICS.

Accidental injury

We accept that it is anomalous to provide compensation for someone who is injured accidentally in dealing with crime. However, much depends on who the applicant is and what is deemed an 'exceptional risk'. Police officers, and other emergency workers, are regularly exposed to risk as part of their duties. It would be unfair to deny them compensation if that risk results in their injury. This responsibility could be shifted to the employer but, if so, it should be mandatory rather than optional for police forces to provide compensation.

Contribution from industry to supporting victims

We welcome the Government's suggestion that industry should contribute to the support of victims. Victim Support has already done much work with the alcohol and insurance industries and we have benefited from their support. For example, Direct Line insurance sponsored our Burglary in Britain4 report. However, it is not just the insurance and alcohol industries that can contribute to the work of supporting victims.

Alcohol industry

Victim Support acknowledges that the level of alcohol-related crime, and particularly alcohol-related violence, is high. This is a social problem and requires a holistic approach which addresses drinking behaviour.

We would welcome support from the alcohol industry for victim services. We also believe that the alcohol industry can contribute to reducing alcohol-related crime. There are a number of practical steps which can be promoted, for example:

However, we are concerned that victims should not receive prejudicial treatment because they are intoxicated at the time they are victimised. For this reason, we strongly resisted a change, introduced in the 2001 Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which permits the Authority to reduce or refuse an award if the victim is intoxicated when they are injured. The Scheme already provided for a reduced or refused award if the victim provoked or was a willing participant in an incident. The Authority could, therefore, deny an award to someone whose behaviour was aggressive due to drunkenness. Intoxication on its own should not be a factor in determining eligibility to compensation.

Insurance industry

We accept that the insurance industry can contribute to the support of victims. We also agree that more can be done to make household insurance more affordable to those on low incomes (who are also often at a high risk of victimisation).

However, direct sponsorship of victim services should have safeguards. For example, insurance companies should not have access to records which could be used in deciding whether to offer insurance, setting premiums or settling claims.

Funding arrangements

Victim Support welcomes the proposal that specialist services should be developed to supplement existing provision for victims. However, care should be taken in deciding which services are specialist and therefore to be funded locally. Local funding may be appropriate for certain crimes. For example, more funding can be allocated to support for victims of racist crimes in areas which have a high minority ethnic population. However, for some crimes, there is a risk of increasing the 'postcode lottery' by allocating funding at a local level. This might occur where services might be specialist but the needs are likely to be consistent across the country.

To ensure consistency and quality of provision across the country there must be national standards and it is vital that funds should be held centrally. There are many services to victims which should be guaranteed and not be dependent on competing local priorities.

Other options

Annex A to the consultation paper sets out four options which the Government has considered. It is only option four which is consulted on. However, Victim Support has serious concerns about the proposals set out in option three.

It is suggested that compensation might only be offered to the most seriously injured and those on the lowest incomes. Everyone else would be expected to take out private insurance against the risk of being criminally injured (either on a compulsory or voluntary basis). We are strongly opposed to insurance cover for the risk of criminal injury. If such insurance were made compulsory, it would, effectively, be another form of personal taxation. If voluntary, we are concerned that insurance for violent crime is least likely to be taken up by the most vulnerable (partly because they are unaware of their high-risk status and partly because of affordability). Instead, people who are most fearful of being criminally injured, but who are, in fact, at a low risk, are most likely to take out insurance. This would leave the most vulnerable unprotected and would exploit the fears of low-risk groups (eg the elderly).

Also, much of the value of state-funded compensation is the fact that it symbolises public recognition of the victim's suffering. This would be lost if individuals are expected to insure themselves against the risk of criminal injury.

We also oppose the idea that the administration of the CICS might be contracted to a private or non-profit enterprise. Administration of the CICS should be regarded as a service to victims and not merely the fulfilment of contractual obligations. It would be particularly inappropriate for an enterprise to make a profit and thereby remove money which might otherwise go to victims.

3. Restorative justice: the Government's strategy, Home Office, July 2003

4. Burglary in Britain, Victim Support, 2000

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