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Dodgy Assessments Used To Rid ACC of Claimants

BIG ACC NEWS: ACC uses substandard assessments to tell injured claimants they are fit to work

By Dave Crampton

ACC case managers are arranging for highly skilled claimants to be assessed as having a capacity to work in lower skilled positions as a means to fast track them from the scheme. Yet ACC boss Garry Wilson assured organisations and claimants that this would never happen.

Last year Scoop obtained a letter dated 23 October 1997 signed by Wilson which assured recipients that “highly skilled claimants will not be assessed as having a capacity to work in low skilled positions”. This view has since been reinforced by at least two District Court judges who have overturned ACC decisions to assess claimants as fit for work doing a menial job. Yet highly skilled claimants are still being assessed as fit to work for 35 hours a week in low skilled positions and exited from the scheme with no job to go to.

Scoop knows of one claimant, an aircraft technician, who was assessed as a parking attendant. Another was assessed as an insurance assessor – he was a dyslexic with a reading age of six. Another, a fully certified marine engineer, was certified as a school caretaker and a ride-on lawn mower driver. This makes a mockery of ACC guidelines on its own website saying, “the assessor will identify and prioritise job options that most closely align with the claimants pre-injury occupation”. The guidelines say that job choices must be realistic.

Yet occupations listed on the rehabilitation plans are often so vague that it is difficult to know what the claimant did before the accident. One rehabilitation plan Scoop has seen lists the occupation as “other business professional”. It is therefore difficult for an assessor to identify jobs similar to a claimant’s pre accident occupation when that occupation is inadequately identified.

ACC guidelines to assessors on its own web site say that a vocational rehabilitation assessor is not required to take into account the effects of a claimant’s injury, let alone health, occupation, or job availability – it specifically instructs not to do this. This conflicts with answers to written questions submitted to ACC which noted that a vocational assessor may take into account a claimant’s injury, (but not a claimants heath). ACC says this is the standard practice, yet it is actually the subsequent medical assessment that should take into account a claimant’s health and injury.

ACC Minister Ruth Dyson has instructed assessors to consider a claimant’s health as well as their injury. Ms Dyson, in a media release dated 18 October 2002, said the “claimant’s health, not just the injury, must be considered when assessing a capacity for work. People must be assessed as being able to work for 35 hours a week before they lose earnings related compensation.

This instruction continues into rehabilitation. “Rehabilitation has to consider the whole person, including their health, social and vocational heeds, as well as treatment for their injury,” Ms Dyson said.

That rarely happens.

Those who are deemed medically fit for selected occupations are been assessed as having a capacity for work - yet the assessor rarely takes into account a claimant’s health. So why aren’t opposition ACC spokes people Peter Brown, Heather Roy and Dr Paul Hutchinson questioning the minister in the House as to why ACC and its assessors are disregarding ministerial instructions, let alone ACC legislation and policy?

Those who are not initially assessed as fit to work in selected occupations are provided with rehabilitation. This rehabilitation has the purpose of removing claimants from ACC, and if they are rehabilitated off the scheme, that is a bonus. Many are not. Some are “rehabilitated” into a job they will never do. For every success story (and there are some) there are stories of unfit claimants forced off ACC.

All assessments should be identified on rehabilitation plans. As rehabilitation plans are not being adequately updated, ACC staff are ramming through assessments to get claimants off ACC while disregarding rehabilitation plans in the process – and claimants are none the wiser.

In the 1997 letter, Mr Wilson also said claimants will be assessed for work readiness only if they have completed a vocational rehabilitation programme and have a clear capacity for work. Yet in a recent response to written questions, ACC managers refused to confirm that claimants who do not have a clear capacity for work after “finishing” rehabilitation were not referred for assessment for vocal independence. Referrals were on a “case by case basis”, says the ACC response, meaning that in some cases policy and legislation may be ignored.

That is because in practice, ACC send claimants for assessment immediately after the expiry date specified on the rehabilitation plan, irrespective of whether a claimant has a clear capacity for work. In some cases, plans are amended in preparation for an early exit, taking no account of how fit for work a claimant actually is. District Court judges have criticised the work readiness assessment programme (WRAP), and it’s predecessor WCAP (Work Capacity assessment programme) recognising that ACC staff are using these programmes for the sole purpose of kicking claimants off ACC as fast as they can. Nearly all those put through the plan agree.

As a result, many long term claimants are not returning to long term jobs. Some are ending on welfare – except, of course, those who have a working partner and are unable to apply for welfare.

Despite this, ACC boss Garry Wilson has full faith in his case managers to apply the legislation correctly when dealing with long term claimants. He should get his head out of the sand and back into the branches to see what is really happening before he finds out via the media. He should take Ruth Dyson with him.

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