The government is to push through cuts of £50m from compensation to crime victims - but will provide a £500,000 hardship fund to help some victims excluded under the reform. Lawyers denounced the measure as ‘a token gesture’.
Justice minister Helen Grant told parliament last week that she had reconsidered proposals to end payments for claims below £2,500 and to reduce payments for claims below £11,000, but that the plan would go ahead.
Grant said that proper support for victims is a priority for the government, but that the current ‘flawed’ criminal injuries compensation scheme operates in an ‘opaque and bewildering way’. The scheme, which costs more than £200m a year, is in ‘serious financial difficulties’ and is ‘unsustainable’, she said.
Grant said that millions of pounds are being spent on relatively minor claims such as sprained ankles and that over the past decade nearly £60m had been paid to 19,000 claimants who are convicted criminals.
‘The scheme must be put on a sustainable footing if it is to continue to make timely compensation to victims in the long term,’ she said.
The government consulted on the proposals, which are designed to save £50m a year, in January, and they were met with criticism from victims’ groups and others.
In September justice minister Damian Green told the House of Commons that the government would look again at the reforms and bring back the scheme ‘in a better form so that individual cases can be treated in a more individual and sensitive way’.
Grant said: ‘We have listened carefully to the comments made, but the fundamentals of the case for reform have not, in our view, changed.’
But she said that a £500,000 hardship fund had been established to help low-earning victims who would fall outside of the scope of the reformed scheme and face ‘real and immediate financial hardship’ because they are temporarily unable to work and are not in receipt of statutory sick pay or an equivalent employer-provided scheme.
Commenting on the decision, the president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Karl Tonks, said: ‘It beggars belief that the government has not amended the very proposals which attracted widespread criticism from Conservative and Labour MPs, as well as vulnerable victims of crime.’
He said: ‘The impression this gives is that the government wants to push these unpopular cuts through, regardless of what the public or some other members of the government think. It is important that victims of violent crime are given financial redress to help them get back to their feet, particularly if they are unable to return to work.’
An APIL spokesman added: ‘The £500,000 hardship fund appears to be little more than a token gesture by the government which will be no substitute for the proper redress many injured victims of crime need to help them get back on their feet.’