The Victims’ Commissioner (VC) Dame Vera Baird, met with the CEO of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), Linda Brown (CEO) for the first of their regular updates on the operation of the criminal injuries compensation scheme (CICS).

The VC referred to the publication in January of the CICS review conducted by her predecessor. This review made a number of recommendations and these have been fed into the Ministry of Justice review of CICA. It had been anticipated that the findings of the MoJ review would be published in the Autumn but this had not been confirmed.

The VC confirmed she too was committed to seeing a CICS that was simpler and less traumatic for those making applications. She noted the recent report and recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) relating to compensation and the fact that they were similar to the recommendations made by her predecessor.

The VC was keen to understand why the number of applications for compensation had fallen slightly from 32,280 in 2017/18 to 31,008 in 2018/19 at a time when reported crime was rising, particularly in respect of sexual violence crimes.

The CEO reported that in the current year the volume of applications received has increased to the level seen in 2017/18. The proportion of sexual abuse claims has also risen in recent years.

It is also the case that, other than in sexual violence crimes, the CICS provides compensation based on those injuries included in the tariff, meaning that some victims may identify that their injuries will not be compensated and therefore, not all victims may choose to make claim. She also explained that CICS requires that alternative means of compensation are accessed, where these are available. This might include court compensation, civil compensation or redress from one of a number of   CSA redress schemes, such as the one operated by Lambeth Council and the new redress scheme being introduced in Scotland.

The VC was concerned that some victims might be put off by some of the barriers facing claimants, for example, the fact that victims were expected to include in the application form a written account of what had happened to them.

The CEO responded that they were seeking to improve the applications process by replacing the current online application form with a digital form, which will halve the number of questions and where applicants were asked to give less information about what had happened to them. It was necessary to ask for some information about the offence so that staff could triage the application when it arrived. They needed sufficient information to be able to identify the relevant police force and to determine whether the level of injury was sufficient to qualify for the scheme. Occasionally, the account might raise discrepancies, albeit that when this happened, CICA would usually accept the version in the police report.

The CEO advised that CICA had established specialist teams to deal with particular applicant groups, including those affected by homicide and those affected by “ the same roof rule”.  They were also streamlining processes and these would be piloted with a tranche of applicants before being rolled out.

The VC welcomed these changes but was keen to see the requirement to offer an account of the crime removed as this was particularly distressing for victims, especially victims of sexual crimes. She was not sure of the purpose of the account as the CICA would always work from the police reports.

The CEO stated that she and the specialist digital service team supporting CICA were determined to ensure that the new system is designed to address the needs of those who use the service and she agreed to look further at this issue.

The VC suggested that victims be given the option of providing an account, with those who found it distressing no longer having to do so. This option to deliver an account, if chosen, had to be made available in a particular way to ensure that claimants understood that there was no advantage or disadvantage to doing so.

The CEO undertook to take this suggestion away and consult with service design colleagues on whether this was feasible. One concern was that taking this requirement out of the form might lengthen the overall time it took to process some claims. The VC said that, in her view, there seemed to be no way in which not having an account could lengthen the process given that the decision is made on the basis of the police report anyway.

The VC welcomed the dedicated caseworker service for victims of homicide as this was consistent with the recommendations in the VC review. The CEO responded that applicants had responded positively to the new system and so had staff. CICA had already extended this service to those affected by the “same roof rule”, and would be testing this service model further in the remainder of the year. However, it was more resource intensive and it may not be possible to roll this service out to all cases with the current level of resources available to CICA. Further improvements had been made to the call-centre and staff were now able to make decisions in straight forward cases without having to refer them to the casework teams.

In the last two years, CICA have employed external organisations to deliver specialist trauma-informed training to staff on issues such as how to support vulnerable claimants and those suffering from trauma.  Specialist training had been delivered to staff on resilience and staff in the call centre rotate to avoid phone fatigue.

CICA had recognised the difficulties for claimants trying to contact them and had also introduced a call back service, but this had to be managed carefully so as to make sure there was capacity to handle the volume of call backs in a timely way.

CICA were also looking to make further upgrades to the telephone service, including alerting callers as to the likely waiting time before their call was handled.

They also wanted to introduce short post-call customer feedback surveys.

The VC asked how responsive police forces were to CICA requests for information. The CEO replied that responses within the agreed time-scales varied across forces. The CEO said that CICA proactively follow up those which are not returned in a timely way but also recognise that this can, in some cases, be due to ongoing investigations or court proceedings. CICA is talking to the NPCC about updating their information sharing protocols in order to improve the response rate and in turn improve the speed at which claims can be processed. The NPCC had been responsive, but the new protocol had not yet been signed off

CICA is also talking to the National College of Policing about how they might work together to further improve police officer training on the criminal injuries compensation scheme, including the possibility of a short CICA promotional video  for police staff.

CICA have a stakeholder engagement group and this is a useful forum for discussing respective issues and has provided a platform some joint-working initiatives. The VC asked whether her office should be represented on the group and the CEO responded that she would welcome OVC participation.

The CEO discussed work she and her colleagues were doing to improve the quality of their standard letters, making them more empathetic and easier to follow. There are over 240 template letters so it was a substantial piece of work. The target was to complete the exercise and introduce the new draft letters in phases by the end of the current business year.

The VC asked about capacity within CICA to cope with the volume of claims. The CEO advised there had been a significant amount of successful work to streamline the process. CICA currently has 262 full-time equivalent staff, down from 300 two years ago and 500 ten years ago. The CEO was satisfied there was sufficient capacity, based on current volumes of work to deliver the organisation’s agreed performance level.

The CICA live caseload has been reduced from a peak of around 47,000 cases (at mid 2016) to 32,000, as a result of cases being processed more swiftly. This year, CICA has a budget settlement of £141 million, an increase on the 2017-18 position.

The VC asked whether victims were receiving acknowledgements when submitting documents to CICA.  The CEO advised this was not possible as they do not have the staff capacity to do this work. Looking ahead, CICA are planning to make the process digital and once this happens, there will be the greater scope to send automated responses when documents are received  onto the system. A digital system, when fully developed, would also have the scope to enable applicants and their representatives to track the progress of claims.

The CEO and VC plan to meet in six months’ time.

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