If you are a survivor of institutional sexual abuse, no amount of financial compensation can undo the pain you have experienced. In cases of abuse, psychological injuries are severe and almost always stay with survivors throughout their lifetime. As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse exposed, for too long many survivors either suffered silently or were forced to accept inadequate settlements and waive their rights to future claims.
As a result of the Royal Commission, there have since been significant changes to the law. And now – for the first time ever – survivors of abuse have options as to how they seek compensation. Those options are:
It’s important to know that once you accept a payment from the National Redress Scheme you can never bring a damages claim – even if a damages payment may have been higher.
Here we explain more about the two avenues for compensation and explore the key differences.
The establishment of a National Redress Scheme was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission. Simply, it aims to acknowledge harm done to survivors of sexual abuse. Compensation can be awarded if the institution in which you were abused has signed up to participate, but there are limitations to the amount you will receive which, in many cases, is less than that of a legal claim. Importantly, if you seek a payment through the National Redress Scheme, you will never be able to make a legal claim.
The Scheme helps survivors of institutional abuse to seek:
Another recommendation from The Royal Commission was that governments around Australia introduce laws that allow survivors to bring legal claims, even if the abuse was many decades ago.
How the claim is brought can differ according to the State you live, but the principles are the same. Usually you can:
Seeking damages is a legal claim; which means a lawyer will gather evidence to prove the institution a survivor was abused in was negligent.
One of the key benefits of a legal claim for damages is they are not capped at $150,000 as under the redress scheme and, in most cases, will be worth considerably more. Your payments are calculated in accordance with how Judges have calculated other payments for survivors. And these payments can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Under the National Redress Scheme, the maximum payment you can receive is $150,000. However this maximum amount can only be achieved by survivors who suffered the most severe abuse – in an institution where their living arrangements made the abuse easier to occur. Many survivors will not qualify for this payment, even if their abuse was severe and the impact has lasted a lifetime.
Not everyone is eligible for the National Redress Scheme. If the institution where a survivor was abused hasn’t signed up to the scheme voluntarily, it can’t be forced to join. As a result, anyone abused in that institution is not eligible. You are also not eligible if:
On the other hand, anyone is eligible to make a damages claim – unless they have already accepted a payment through the Redress Scheme.
Because the National Redress Scheme is new, claim processing times aren’t clear. In its first year of operation, around 4,000 survivors applied for compensation, but only 215 received payments, though it is hoped this will speed up as the Scheme progresses. The Scheme will run for 10 years, and will stop accepting applications on 30 June 2027.
As a result of new legislation, there is now no time limit on when a damages claim can be brought. Importantly, you will still be able to make a damages claim after the Redress Scheme closes - but not if you have already accepted a Redress payment.
If you or someone you love is a survivor of childhood abuse, we are here to support you and get the justice you deserve.
Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.