Counselling and compensation entitlements may soon become too difficult to access for victims of crime across the state.
The Department of Communities and Justice has been accused of trying to sneak through significant changes to the NSW Victims Support Scheme without stakeholder consultation.
In a major upheaval for the scheme, the onus of evidence-gathering to support a claim would be shifted from the state to the victim.
Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL) Chief Executive, Kerrie Thompson, believes these changes will have detrimental effects on those who experience crime.
Currently, victims submit a form stating the nature of their injury, when they thought it occurred, whether it is physical or psychological, and who may hold records of this.
The state would then obtain these records from the agencies who hold them to determine the claim.
Under the change, however, victims of crime would be required to collect all this evidence themselves – an action that, for many, would be easier said than done.
“We are concerned that many vulnerable victims will miss out on their entitlements with the new changes to how they access financial assistance,” Ms Thompson says.
“To expect them to seek their own evidence and reports of how the crime has impacted their physical and psychological health may exacerbate their trauma.
“We acknowledge that some victims will be able to focus and function to get the relevant reports, however, we worry that many vulnerable victims will find the process overwhelming and difficult, resulting in them not accessing the full support scheme.”
Newcastle State MP Tim Crakanthorp argues the scheme gives no consideration to real world impacts.
“Victims of crime have already experienced a significant trauma; imagine on top of that trying to navigate this system if you’re homeless, have low literacy level or are not a native English speaker, for example,” he says.
“For many it will simply be too hard, but the last thing we want is someone abandoning the pursuit of support they need for their recovery.”
The change was announced on 20 April, just one week before it was due to be implemented, without consultation with peak bodies or victims support services.
Following representations from more than 40 of these services and the NSW Opposition, NSW Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman, delayed the start of the scheme for two weeks.
Mr Crakanthorp says a two-week delay is nowhere near good enough.
“The government has tried to sneak this through while everyone is distracted by COVID-19,” he says.
“It’s opportunistic and it’s heartless.
“The Minister needs to halt these changes for longer than two weeks and instate a genuine consultation process that allows for participation from everyone who will be affected.”
Mr Crakanthorp has also written to Mr Speakman with his request.