Howard's End : ACC Accused Of Misrepresentation
Christchurch police have confirmed that long-term ACC claimants have lodged a complaint against the Accident Compensation Corporation alleging contravention of statute, misrepresentation and false representation under the Crimes Act 1961. Maree Howard writes.
Long-term ACC claimants say that despite their best efforts to have their concerns with ACC addressed through official channels, and calling on the ACC Associate Minister, Ruth Dyson to start a public inquiry, they have so far met with little success and their long-standing concerns remain.
Claimants who lodged the complaint with the police say they are aware of a number of people in the same position that they are who are not receiving the full range of statutory entitlements which the various ACC Acts say must be provided.
They say case managers appear out of control with little oversight or supervision and claimants, and the public, are being short-changed by short-cuts. They see their cases as just the tip of the iceberg and that they are fed-up with the stress and anxiety caused by ACC. They say they are not bludgers but are being treated as such. They say they simply want a fair go and to be treated properly and humanely.
They say businesses and other levy payers also deserve a public inquiry into the way ACC operates. The way ACC operates is worse than the way Inland Revenue operated until an inquiry changed it.
ACC is the most complained about organisation with the Ombudsman - greater than IRD. It runs second in the number of complaints at the Privacy Commission, behind the police.
In 1994 Judge Peter Trapski conducted an extensive inquiry into the procedures of ACC which was scathing. Claimants say if anything things have gotten worse with a culture of ACC denial and confrontational mindset since the Trapski inquiry.
Scoop has been following the stories of five claimants across the South Island for the last three months and the way they have been handled by ACC branch staff.
Claimants are concerned that if their identities are revealed they will be subject to ACC harassment. The issue of ACC harassment was raised strongly by politicians at Select-Committee hearings last year. Politicians were then deeply concerned with the adverse culture and mindset from some within ACC.
It is alleged that in the last two years 18 people have committed suicide while on ACC.
It is also alleged that many former ACC claimants now reside on the sickness or invalid benefit which lowers the ACC numbers, but increases the numbers on other benefits. The Budget forecast invalid's benefits to increase from 55,000 last year to 77,000 by 2005. Claimants say they will likely be former ACC clients.
In one case which Scoop is aware of a claimant with professional qualifications wanted some financial help following his accident in 1998 to attend teachers college for a year to be retrained as a teacher. He says this and another suggestion was refused by ACC and he continues to languish on weekly compensation. He remains bitter.
In another case a claimant discovered scurrilous remarks made about him in ACC documents marked "Not for File" and "Remove from File." He says this is evidence that ACC keeps secret or secondary files on claimants. One notation talks about "getting him" - another says "even his animals don't like him" and yet another attempts to deny him rehabilitation.
In yet another case there is a 1997 notation on a file which the claimant discovered only last year which says: "No rehab - No chance rehab- low priority - maintenance only." Yet ACC had a duty to provide rehabilitation under the ACC Act and the claimant had a "right" to receive it.
ACC has now dusted-off the file and wants to start only vocational rehabilitation when the claimant has only two years to go to retirement age. Nothing is mentioned about social rehabilitation and the claimants GP wants treatment for a medical condition from the injury which has recently been identified. ACC had also earlier ignored the medical evidence and closed this file for four years and provided nothing.
The claimants allege this is clear evidence of contravention of statute under Section 107 of the Crimes Act 1961.
On 26 April Scoop put a series of questions to ACC Minister, Lianne Dalziel, which will not be answered until 12 June when the Minister invoked the Official Information Act. Scoop was prepared to wait for the Minister's response until today's police complaint developments.
Sccop had also been in contact with the Medical Council of New Zealand to establish how it sees the part played by registered medical practitioners who become contracted ACC assessors. The Council says it is preparing a statement of responsibilities of doctors who are employed as third parties, such as ACC doctors, because there is some confusion about their responsibilities.
There are two instances Scoop has been made aware of where one claimant has been sent by ACC to see 22 different specialists and another who has seen 13.
Claimants say ACC goes "surgeon-shopping" until it gets the opinion it wants which increases the costs of the ACC scheme and requires them to pay for yet more medical experts to negate ACC in what can be complicated medical claims. They say a whole industry of so-called medical professionals has grown-up around ACC contract work.
Claimants say ACC is quite prepared to use the bottomless public purse to defend itself in Court against their claims. "It's like a war of attrition," they say.
The complaint to police in part says; " For many years, ACC and its predecessors have had statutory powers, duties and functions to provide injured persons, who have cover accepted under the various Acts, with treatment, social and vocational rehabilitation entitlements."
" ACC portrays itself to the general public as a responsible and caring organisation and, through media campaigns, it endeavours to build a relationship with the public that it is to be trusted and that it is providing the full range of statutory entitlements to all injured persons. It represents the motto to the general public; - Prevention. Care. Recovery.," the complaint says.
" In the financial year 2001, ACC raised $1.9 billion in revenue from the general public for specific purposes, including providing a full range of entitlements prescribed in the ACC legislation. It is alleged that ACC has enriched itself through investments amounting to some $3 billion returning a minimum yield of 7% for the past 10 years on a risk adjusted basis. This is above the insurance industry average. (source AM Best)"
"On March 11 2002, international credit-rating agency, A M Best, issued a press release from the United States assigning an A+ (Superior) financial rating to ACC. The press release states that ACC "........will achieve its target of eliminating all non-funded liabilities.......by June 30 2014. The $3.9 billion long tail actuarial is required by statute to become fully reserved by June 30 2015, a process that is well underway," the police complaint says.
The press release prompted ACC claimants to allege that ACC has a deliberate intent to rid itself of long-term claimants no matter what their disability. They say they have found no statutory authority which authorises it.
"The public is mandatory required and induced to be satisfied by various publicity means, to pay for entitlements/services to be provided. The general public has a reasonable and legitimate expectation that in exercising its powers, duties and functions under the Act that ACC will exercise them in good faith and in the public interest, have care and regard to the interests of claimants, levy payers and taxpayers, and provide the full range of statutory entitlements."
"We allege that while the general public is paying for the full range of statutory entitlements to be provided and trusts ACC to do so, there is an intent not to provide them in full and in a timely manner to long-term claimants, nor are long-term claimants always advised of the full range of entitlements available to them. There is evidence by act and omission of intent to conceal and/or deny statutory entitlements.
Claimants allege that when a person has lawful entitlements prescribed in the legislative regime intentionally concealed from them until, and unless, they discover or detect it, that is dishonest.
When a claimant is forced to resort to the expensive Court processes to obtain rights to lawful entitlements that is dishonest, they allege.
It is alleged that when someone without lawful excuse wilfully omits to carry-out a statutory duty required in the law, knowing full well that the public believes and trusts that those duties are being complied with, the public cannot thing "bit of an error of judgment there." The phrase error of judgment or mistake does not spring to mind.
Claimants allege that when an innocent public is induced to be satisfied to pay $1.9 billion and relies on representations and/or inferences by ACC that the full range of statutory entitlements is being provided to everyone when we have evidence that they are not in all cases, are the public supposed to say, " Never mind, there is no dishonesty here, just error of judgment."
The claimants say that ACC must show it has lawful excuse to do what it is doing, and has done.
When asked what they will
do if the police don't investigate their complaint the
claimants say they will then seriously consider a private