ACC to pay compensation in waiver ruling

Last updated 05:00 16/04/2014

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ACC will compensate any client it has cut off from a claim or compensation for refusing to sign its catch-all privacy waiver.

Exactly how many people were cut off was unknown, the corporation said last night, but it did not believe the numbers were big.

The Dominion Post revealed this week that ACC broke its own laws and illegally demanded thousands of clients sign a blanket privacy waiver for its "ACC 167" consent form.

Two District Court decisions by Judge Grant Powell upheld appeals against the form's privacy waiver, and awarded costs against ACC. The corporation said about 50,000 people a year were required to sign the form, but it expected only a small proportion of those to be affected by the court decisions.

By 4pm yesterday, only 14 people had called a special number, 0800 745254, set up after the latest privacy blunder by ACC.

Meanwhile, ACC Minister Judith Collins has said it could be forced to destroy information it gathered illegally under the waiver. Answering questions in Parliament yesterday, she told Labour ACC spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway it would not be acceptable for the corporation to retain client information it had gathered illegally, or to use it to cut off clients from claims or treatment.

Until yesterday, Collins had refused to comment on the latest ACC blunder, saying it was an operational matter. ACC client lobby groups warned the corporation for years that the form was excessive and probably illegal.

But now it has emerged that taxpayer-funded watchdog agencies such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and Human Rights Commission backed ACC's strongarm tactics after they were contacted by complainants, including whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar.

In 2010 the privacy commissioner's office told Pullar the form complied with privacy law.

Yesterday commissioner John Edwards said the consent form did comply with privacy law, so long as ACC told clients what information it was collecting and why.

However, Edwards said he was pleased "to note" the court decision against ACC and that his office did not support "overly broad consent forms", even if they were lawful.

Again in 2010, the Human Rights Commission said ACC was entitled to use the form, citing the same section of ACC law that Judge Grant Powell said this week had been broken.

More details have also emerged of ACC thumbing its nose at complaints about the form for many years. The Consumers Outlook Group (COG), which ACC regularly consults, formally raised concerns about the form many times.

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In 2010, then ACC minister Nick Smith was advised by COG member Denise Powell that his department was acting illegally.

Powell - one of the two successful appellants to the District Court - accused ACC of acting like bullies. "They are using illegal tactics, including financial coercion, harassment, bullying through the use of power and specifically the suspension of entitlements," she said in a letter to Smith.

He later responded to another complaint saying he had no problem with the form because it had been checked by "our legal team".

In June 2011, COG told leading ACC staff and advisers about concerns over the form. But it was told the corporation had taken all reasonable actions to comply with the law, the Privacy Act, Official Information Act and Health Information Privacy Code.

ACC plans to have new consent forms ready within two weeks.

- Wellington

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