ACC changes 'lead victims to shun aid'

Many sex abuse victims seem to have given up asking anyone for help since changes last year in the way ACC sensitive claims are assessed.

Ann Kent, Abuse and Rape Crisis Support (Arcs) Manawatu manager, said the number of people asking about, applying for or being approved for ACC support had fallen dramatically.

Between December 2008 and last June, between seven and 17 claims a month were being accepted in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, with between eight and 13 a month being declined. In the first two months of this year, no claims were accepted, and six or more were declined.

Ms Kent said she was concerned people suffering the after-effects of sexual abuse had disappeared.

"They are not going to ACC, they seem to have decided it all sounds too hard. But they are not going to anyone else either."

She said Arcs had not seen any significant increase in referrals since last year. Other agencies offering counselling had recorded only slight increases.

"We are obviously very concerned about survivors, and want to make sure people are aware that there are alternatives to ACC that are free or low cost."

Ms Kent said that as the only specialist sexual abuse help community group, Arcs expected to see more people seeking help when they were declined ACC help or decided not to apply for it.

Counselling services run by the Women's Health Collective, Relationship Services, Across, Te Aroha Noa, Christian Counselling Centre, Te Runanga O Raukawa and Manline offered support and referrals. The Women's Health Collective and Methodist Social Services said they had not seen an increase in numbers either.

The Manawatu Standard asked ACC Minister Nick Smith if he was satisfied that people with a legitimate case for counselling were seeking and receiving the help they needed. His spokesman said the changes around sensitive claims were driven entirely by clinicians and were not about cost cutting.

"It is true that concern has been raised by some counsellors about the new pathway to managing sensitive claims."

An independent clinical review of ACC's processes for dealing with sensitive claims would be announced next month.

"It is the minister's intention to ensure those leading the review are well qualified to provide claimants and all New Zealanders with an assurance that what ACC is doing in this area is in the best interests of those claimants."

He said ACC's new approach was the result of more than four years' work and reflected evidence-based clinical guidelines developed by ACC following research from Massey University under the previous government.

The Manawatu Standard