Criminal neglect: no justice beyond criminal justice - The rights of victims of crime - Finance

Victim Support believes that

Victims of crime should not have to bear the cost of crime alone

Crime can have serious financial consequences for its victims. This ranges from the uninsured victim of property crime who cannot afford to replace damaged or stolen possessions, to a victim of violent crime whose injuries prevent them returning to work, or to a bereaved relative on a low income who cannot afford to pay the costs of a funeral. Financial worries add to the stress caused by crime. Moreover, the financial consequences of crime have a greater impact on people on low incomes, contributing to long-term social exclusion. Victim Support believes that crime victims should not be expected to bear the costs of crime alone. Financial support is vital in reducing the .

Victim Support is well aware of the extent of financial hardship caused by crime. We receive many and regular requests for financial help.

Examples include:

Insurance should be affordable

A pensioner, who lives alone in local authority accommodation, was repeatedly burgled over a period of several years; "I did tell the police that I couldn't live here any more. I'd had enough - I was going mental really and truly. I could not believe it. You know why? I have nothing. I've only got a black and white TV. I left the kitchen light on when I went to bed and there was nothing more I could do. I mean I had no money for security or anything like that. I'm a pensioner. I have no money in the bank. I just live on my pension. I am insured for death but I could not afford anymore each week; with gas, electric and phone - I just can't afford insurance."

The 1998 British Crime Survey showed that almost one in five UK households did not have home contents insurance. Low-income households were the least likely to have insurance: around a half (49 per cent) of those living in accommodation rented from a council or housing association were not insured and almost half (47 per cent) of these said it was at least in part due to the cost. The survey also shows that those least likely to have insurance are more at risk of burglary. Almost one in ten (8.6%) of uninsured households experienced a burglary in 1997 compared to just five per cent of insured households.(31)

The two most frequently cited difficulties with insurance companies arose from victims not being insured due to high premiums (32.7%) or being disqualified due to earlier victimisation (15.4%). Common problems when making insurance claims include: feeling aggrieved, angry or "punished" by the way they have been treated; invasion of privacy; being tested/not believed; having the value of items challenged and being pressured to accept cheaper replacements; or companies insisting on the installation of expensive security measures before renewing their policy.(32)

Research(33) has shown that:

A valuable alternative for those who cannot afford conventional insurance cover is a tenants contents insurance scheme. These schemes, which can be operated by local authorities and registered social landlords, generally involve the collection of insurance premiums with rent. The landlord is able to negotiate preferential rates with insurance companies. These savings can be passed on to tenants, who might otherwise be discriminated against because of their postcode. Tenants receive cover that is affordable and flexible and meets their needs. Local authorities and registered social landlords fulfil their obligations to promote social inclusion. Such schemes have the support of The Housing Corporation, the Association of British Insurers, the National Housing Association and a number of insurance brokers. Research commissioned by The Housing Corporation shows that schemes like this do operate successfully but much more can, and should be done by local authorities and registered social landlords to set up and promote tenants contents insurance (34).

The social security system must address the specific needs of crime victims with fast and effective provision

Many victims of crime require help from the benefits system. They may have had benefits books stolen and need money to tide them over until they are replaced. They may have been burgled and need a grant to help replace necessities at home. Yet, community care grants can be very difficult to get. Victim Support believes that loans are an inadequate response to circumstances like these. Households on low incomes, but not receiving benefits, can find themselves in a particularly difficult position, as eligibility to benefits, such as help from the Social Fund, is restricted.

The social security system must be revised so that the needs of victims of crime are recognised and addressed. Extra provision should be made so that becoming a victim of crime does not permanently disadvantage people who are in need of assistance.

Entitlement to compensation should be based on equitable principles and should be extended to meet the needs of more victims of crime

Victims of violent crime, or bereaved relatives of someone who has died as a result of criminal injuries, can apply for compensation under the state-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). The CICS, administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), determines awards according to the seriousness of injuries, which are allocated one of twenty-five tariff levels, which, in turn, correspond to awards ranging from £1,000 to £250,000.

Additional compensation may be awarded for loss of earnings and care costs, where the victim's recovery takes longer than 28 weeks, and for dependency in fatal cases.

The criminal injuries compensation system was established by the government in 1964 (35) on the grounds that the payment of compensation was an expression of public sympathy for innocent victims of crime and scrutiny of the character of the victim has remained a feature of the CICS ever since.

Victim Support believes this is wrong. Stereotypical notions of deserving and undeserving victims lead to unjust decisions which are contrary to general principles of social justice. We believe that state compensation should recognise on behalf of society the experience which victims of crime have suffered and help people to recover from it and to live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances.

The key criterion for awards made by the CICS is whether a crime of violence results in physical or mental injury. Compared to the prevalence of violent crimes relatively few people receive anything. In 1999-2000 the police recorded 703,105 violent crime offences, but there were only 39,700 successful applications for criminal injuries compensation.(36) One reason for this is the fact that injuries must be deemed to be worth a minimum amount, currently £1,000, to qualify for compensation. We believe that this threshold should be abolished and that compensation should be available for all injuries that are more serious than minor cuts and bruises (and the psychological equivalent). Eligibility should also be extended to those who have experienced psychological injury as a result of other offences, such as racial harassment and domestic burglary which can have a severe and long-lasting impact.

Cases of victims, supported by Victim Support, whose claims for Criminal Injuries Compensations have been turned down:

The British Crime Survey also shows that a disproportionate number of the victims of violent crimes are likely to be poor.(37) But the CICS fails to meet the needs of poorer victims because compensation is treated as capital for the purposes of assessing the victim's entitlement to incomerelated benefits. The only way the victim can protect the compensation award and continue to receive benefits is to put the money in a trust, which will generally require a solicitor whose costs (often several hundred pounds) have to be paid out of the award. Once the award has been put into the trust it is not under the applicant's control, and there are restrictions on what payments can be made under the trust if the money is to be disregarded by the Department of Work and Pensions. This has implications for the victim's ability to regain control in his or her life after the crime, and limits how effective the compensation is in terms of helping him/her to overcome the effects of the crime.

This means that compensation, which has been paid by the state in recognition of the suffering caused by a criminal act, is treated in the same way as a gambling win, as income which the state is entitled to deduct from any other benefits. It creates a difference between the compensation actually received by those who are reasonably well off, whose income is not affected by receiving an award, and by those on social security benefits, whose needs are arguably the greater. We believe that awards paid under the tariff scheme should be completely exempt from social security capital rules so that the money is disregarded for assessing entitlement to income-related benefits. Similarly, those who are ineligible for statutory sick pay, for example, self employed people and those in temporary jobs, are also disadvantaged by the CICS.

Under the terms of the scheme, loss of earnings are only compensated if the victim is unable to work for more than 28 weeks with the result that many people do not recover their losses. The CICS, creates inequality of provision through scrutinising the conduct and character of the victim. Victim Support accepts that it is proper to reduce or withhold an award where the applicant provoked or colluded in the offence, but we strongly oppose exclusions based on a person's character or conduct, whether judged by previous convictions or otherwise. This, plus the use of terms such as 'blameless' or 'innocent' victims when describing the beneficiaries of the scheme, allows for subjective value judgments that can lead to discriminatory decisions. Moreover, distinctions between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' are not made in respect of other forms of social provision and we consider them to be out of place in a compensation scheme based on equity and justice.

Refusal of compensation tells a crime victim that they are not worthy of society's sympathy. The harshness of the current system is perhaps best exemplified by the treatment of bereaved relatives of homicide victims. For example, a child will be denied any fatal award, dependency or loss of parental services in respect of the death of their parent if he or she (the parent) had previous convictions. We believe there is no justification for this practice and, even by the simplistic morality that underpins the CICS, it is hard to reconcile how a child can be deemed unworthy of the recognition and sympathy an award of compensation represents.

The CICS is also out of step with the criminal law in its treatment of sexual offences. The CICS makes a distinction between consent in law and consent in fact, so that, for example, a child who is incapable of giving consent in law may be denied compensation if they are deemed to have consented in fact. The CICS therefore perpetuates an outmoded notion that physical force is an essential component of a sexual offence.

References

31. Budd, 1999
32. Tarling & Davison, 2000
33. Whyley, McCormick & Kempson, 1998
34. Housing Corporation, 2001
35. 697 HC official report (5th series) cols 89-94 (24 June 2019)
36. For the twelve months to March 2000, there were 703,105 violent crime offences recorded by the police (Povey, Cotton & Sisson, 2000). According to the 2000 BCS, the total number of violent crimes was 3,246,000 (Kershaw et al, 2000).
37. The BCS 2000 shows that: 11.6% of victims unemployed; 5.7% on an income less than £5,000; 5.5% in council area; 7.9% high physical disorder; and, 10.7% single parents (Kershaw et al, 2000)

top of page