Victim compensation fund reduced

A victim of crime
Image caption Victims Support said some victims had to wait years for compensation

The government has cut the budget available to help victims of crime get compensation for their injuries.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme will have £10m less this year, a cut of about 5%.

An unpublished report from the largest victims' organisation, Victim Support, seen by the BBC, says there is already a "financial time-bomb" in the scheme.

The Ministry of Justice said the forecast for this year's budget "would provide sufficient funding".

The government intends to hold a consultation on the future of the scheme, run by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, in the autumn.

The authority can make awards from £1,000 to £500,000 depending on the severity of the injury to victims of crime. Last year, more than 60,000 people applied for compensation.

The decision to cut the budget from £211m to £201m comes despite Justice Secretary Ken Clarke telling Parliament last year that "it simply has not received adequate funding in each year's budget to keep up with the level of claims".

Chairman of the National Victims Association David Hines said he was furious at the funding cut.

"It's an outrage," he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

"Quite frankly it should be increased by £200m and decent payouts made to the victims of homicide and victims of serious crime."

The report by Victim Support, which was due to have been published this week, warns that "the scheme contains within it a financial time-bomb, having to put aside money every year to fund historic claims with a potential maximum liability of £400 million".

'Unfair' rules

The report concluded that thousands of victims wait more than two years for the compensation when they often need help in the first few months after a crime.

And it said the scheme's rules embed a substantial degree of unfairness into its operation.

The most vulnerable victims, those who have suffered abuse in childhood or sexual abuse, often find the compensation system weighed heavily against them.

The report comes ahead of a government consultation paper on the scheme's future, due to be publish in the next few weeks.

The Ministry of Justice has to find departmental savings of 23% over 4 years.

Victim Support argues that the government should "implement funding solutions which place the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme on a firm financial footing".

It wants the current eligibility threshold to be maintained; the value of awards to the most vulnerable to be protected; and any possibility of charging for making an application rejected.

'Desperate need'

Neil Sugarman, managing partner at GLP Solicitors, said there were "rumours" that lower award compensation, for injuries ranging from a black eye to scratching or some forms of sexual assault, could be removed from the scheme entirely.

Less discretion may also be allowed in relation to how much the scheme can pay out for loss of earnings or the cost of care following an injury.

"That would save money," says Mr Sugarman, "but equally it would leave a lot of people worse off and desperately in need of help and support."

Meanwhile, staff at the authority have told the BBC that they are becoming overwhelmed by the pressure of dealing with applications.

"I would say that morale is pretty bad," said one employee.

Staff struggle

"An awful lot of staff are leaving, and numbers are critically low. There are not enough staff to cope with the cases we have and that's only going to get worse.

"They are letting staff go and at the same time they are offering overtime to try and cut the backlog."

Another said: "Staff get very little training. They don't have the experience or the training to handle many cases, with little appreciation for the types of investigations that can be done. There is a motivation to jump on a negative as it resolves a case."

In its latest annual report, the CICA says it has cut the time it takes to reach an initial decision. Staff have a target of making seven to nine decisions a day.

But one employee said: "We don't have the resources to put into evidence gathering, and what can happen is that decision can be made very quickly because of the pressures of numbers. Those decisions aren't always the right ones."

In a statement, the CICA said: "In the last financial year 81% of applicants we surveyed after receiving their decision, including people who we refused compensation, said they were happy with our service."

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