How government cuts led to blunders in complex criminal compensation awards

How government cuts led to blunders in complex criminal compensation awards

carole oatway chief executive of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

Carole Oatway, chief executive of the Criminal Unjuries Compensation Authority

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The government’s obsession with cutting Whitehall  staff is always
portrayed by ministers as getting more ” value for money” and greater
efficiency. No doubt it will be said again when the remorseless
reduction continues over the next two years.

Yet this year’s  crop of annual reports has produced  a vignette from
one Whitehall body that nobody knows much about which rather disproves
this case.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is not well known but
for those who suffer serious injury it is vital to ensure they receive
some compensation for an injury that is no fault of their own. They
include British victims of terrorist attacks including recently those
injured in Paris and Tunisia and the families of those killed.

Most of its payouts are routine based on a tariff which was already
reduced to save public money by Chris Grayling when he was justice
secretary.

But for 10 per cent of claimants their cases are complex and they
need a detailed assessment by Whitehall staff. It is these that have
gone wrong.

As I wrote in Tribune
this month the situation through staff cuts and people quitting the
agency because of stress caused by their workload. The agency admits it
itself.

It’s annual report for the last financial year says: “This issue … is
the consequence of an exceptional level of staff turnover in 2015-16,
that has resulted in a reduced level of resources  across increasing
workloads. This situation is now being rectified with a major
recruitment exercise underway.”
The errors were originally found when the National Audit Office,
Parlia­ment’s financial watchdog, ran a spot check on payments made to
victims in complex cases.
The worst case involved a significant overpayment of £69,023 on an award of £356,964 due to a maths mistake by a caseworker.
Another case revealed a potential underpayment of £15,118 on an award of
£69,976 on a case involving two linked claims for dependency.
Other mistakes included under­pay­ments of £80 on a £395,727 award,
£1,463 on a £113,071 award, and over­payment of £42 on a £445,355 award.
The NAO investigation triggered an internal inquiry by the agency which
found even more errors. The CICA has now ordered a review into its
practices.

The report says : “CICA tested a further 98 complex cases, based on a
random sample selected by the NAO, and found 17 errors; 8 overpayments
and 9 underpayments. These included three errors over £10,000 and four
errors of under £80 on sample of cases with a combined value of over £5
million.”

The CICA took its time to reply to me and had to be pressed to admit
that while it was refunding those who had been shortchanged it had no
power to claim back money it had overpaid. Good news for those who got
more cash but hardly an efficient way to run a service.It also stressed
that it was only a relatively small number of people and not a huge part
of its budget.

But this is not the point. For the individual suffering some damaging
injury an underpayment of £15,000 is not a sum of money they won’t
miss.

There is also a much wider point. Civil service cuts have also led to
people being underpaid benefits, short changed on taxes and
the bad handling of cases by public bodies. Cuts being imposed next
include the Equality and Human Rights Commission losing lower paid case
workers – meaning it will either cut the number of cases it handles or
open the risk of stressed staff making mistakes. None of this seems to
affect the higher paid.

The government should realise that it can’t magic savings in public
services without any consequences for the general public. Something I
suspect they won’t want to know as it damages their belief  that
austerity doesn’t matter.

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