Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"The Ministry of Justice's declared objective is to place victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. If the scheme for compensating victims of violent crime is anything to go by, that objective is a long way from fulfilment.
"Eight years ago, our Committee gave a withering verdict on how the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority was performing. Since then that performance has deteriorated even further.
"A large proportion of citizens who are injured by violent criminals are left in ignorance of the compensation scheme, leading to the absurd situation that only five per cent apply for compensation. The tiny proportion which applies is then stymied by complex application forms. A good many applicants waste money on being represented by solicitors because no one in authority saw fit to draw their attention to the free service provided by Victim Support. Cases are processed inefficiently and are therefore taking longer to resolve. And the cost of processing each case has leapt by 50 per cent.
"It is good news that the Ministry and Authority have finally put in place a performance management framework and better accountability system. We expect the Ministry to report to this Committee before the end of this Parliament on its progress in reforming a scheme to which it has hitherto given a low priority."
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 54th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry), Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (the Authority) and the Tribunals Service, examined the reasons for the deterioration in performance since the Committee last reported and the steps that they had taken, and planned to take, to improve performance in the future.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme makes financial awards to individuals who have been injured as a result of violent crime. The scheme makes awards, based on a tariff system reflecting the type of injury, ranging from £1,000 to £250,000. It also makes payments to cover loss of earnings and various expenses, which can increase the total award to a maximum of £500,000. The scheme is administered by the Authority, a Non-Departmental Public Body of the Ministry. Appeals against the Authority's decisions are heard by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel (the Panel) which is part of the Tribunals Service, an Executive Agency of the Ministry. The Committee's predecessors examined this subject in 2000.
Between 2000 and 2006, performance in dealing with claims deteriorated due to poor management within the Authority, combined with a lack of oversight by the sponsoring department. Despite the number of applications falling by 23 per cent, the average time taken to resolve a case rose from 12 to 17 months; the number of cases resolved per staff member fell from 179 to 125; and the total cost to the taxpayer of administering the scheme increased by £6.1 million in real terms. Unit costs have also risen. The Authority and Panel have not focussed adequately on the users of the Scheme. Its performance targets have not been sufficiently stretching and there have been weak incentives to meet them.
The Ministry of Justice now has oversight of the scheme, yet the low priority given to it belies its importance to the Ministry's objective of putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. The Ministry did not set rigorous targets for either the Authority or the Panel nor did it hold them accountable for their performance.
Victims of violent crime are not made sufficiently aware of the existence of the scheme or its requirements. Only about one third of victims of violent crime surveyed in 2006 were aware of the scheme and only 5 per cent applied. Some demographic groups are more likely to apply than others. Over half of applicants use representatives, although it is not necessary, and over 20 per cent pay solicitors, even though Victim Support offers a free service. The Scheme application form is long and complex, and almost a fifth of applicants found it difficult to complete. The Authority's call centre is currently outsourced but performance is poor; 15 per cent of calls are not answered, and half of those that are answered had to be referred back to the Authority. The Authority plans to improve the application form and bring the call centre in-house, incorporating a new applicant support service.
The Authority requires information from third parties such as police forces, GPs and hospitals to resolve cases but it has failed to work sufficiently with them to encourage faster response times. The Authority's casework processes have become increasingly repetitive and bureaucratic. The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime specifies that the Police should respond to initial requests for information in 30 days. The Ministry has, however, not managed to get all police forces to comply, and only 15 police forces met this timescale for half of the requests they receive.
In the seven years since the Committee's predecessors examined this subject, only five of its sixteen recommendations have been met in full. The Ministry now plans to put in place accountability and performance management frameworks at all of its arms' length bodies, and to appoint an official to monitor performance against the recommendations of the National Audit Office and the Committee.