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National Redress Scheme

The National Redress Scheme was set up as an option for survivors of child sexual abuse wishing to seek compensation. It came out of a recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and was set up in 1 July 2018 to operate for a period of 10 years. It is an additional option to the already existing option of a civil claim for compensation which can be either through the courts or through an out of court settlement.

Alternative Pic The National Redress Scheme is a valuable option for survivors in a number of circumstances. In circumstances where the survivor does not have strong evidence of abuse, an application to the National Redress Scheme may be more appropriate. This is because the National Redress Scheme only requires that there is a “reasonable likelihood” the abuse occurred. The Scheme does not require that the institution involved be at fault, only that the institution was responsible for the abuser having contact with the survivor. In contrast, a civil claim requires a higher burden of proof, needing to prove that the institution is negligent or legally responsible.

Another advantage of the National Redress Scheme is its emphasis on avoiding re-traumatising survivors. This is achieved via three features of the scheme. Firstly, the scheme provides a survivor with access to counselling, psychological support and free legal services. Secondly, the scheme process is very simple and an application does not require that a survivor talk to the institution involved directly or anyone else if they do not wish to. Thirdly, part of the resolution of a survivor’s claim can involve an apology from the institution involved and an explanation of what the institution is doing to protect against future abuses occurring. These three features are not features of a civil law claim.

There are, however, limitations to the National Redress Scheme and so it is not always the most suitable option for every survivor. Firstly, it is only an option if the abuse can be linked to an institution and if the institution responsible for the abuse has joined the scheme (although a large number of institutions have signed up). Secondly, it was set up to last for 10 years and therefore will not be available to survivors who have not lodged an application by 30 June 2027. In contrast, there is no limitation period for common law claims for compensation. Thirdly, it only applies to child sexual abuse and not abuse suffered that is physical only or that occurred after the age of 18 years. And finally and importantly, if compensation is accepted under the scheme, no civil claim can be made in the future.

Perhaps one of the most talked about limitations to the National Redress Scheme is that the compensation amount under the Scheme is currently capped at $150,000 with average compensation amounts being approximately $80,000 (as reported in 2019). In comparison, a civil law claim for compensation for child sexual abuse can take into account compensation for past and future economic loss, past and future medical expenses and pre-judgement interest. Taking these losses into account can mean that the damages claimed can be very significantly higher than the $150,000 capped amount that the National Redress Scheme can award. The compensation amount awarded in a civil claim varies from person to person and takes into account the impact the childhood abuse has had on the course of that person’s life. Amounts over a million dollars have (occasionally) been awarded.

The National Redress Scheme and civil compensation claims are both aimed at providing survivors with compensation. In deciding the right option the individual advantages and disadvantages of both need to be carefully considered. The option that is right for each survivor depends on the unique circumstances of their case and should be carefully considered by each individual in conjunction with independent legal advice.

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