24 Nov 2022

ACC’s scope to go beyond claimants, new legislation to come before Parliament shows

6:02 pm on 24 November 2022
ACC Sign in Wellington

ACC's own analysis has shown it is biased against women, Māori and Pasifika. A law change aims to address the problem. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ACC will be required to broaden its scope to helping all injured people, rather than just those that make ACC claims.

Legislation to be introduced to Parliament under urgency on Friday also requires the agency to collect data on how Māori and other disadvantaged population groups are accessing its services, and identify any drivers of disparities in access.

The changes come after ACC's own analysis found the scheme was biased against women, Māori, Pasifika and disabled people.

The legislation has been welcomed as a step in the right direction, but critics said more needed to be done to truly address the inequities in the scheme.

The Accident Compensation (Access Reporting and Other Matters) Bill, requires the agency to report annually on how Māori and other disadvantaged population groups access its services.

Currently, there is no requirement in the law for ACC to do this.

"The information will increase awareness about where disparities exist and how they might be mitigated. It will also increase transparency for the public about access to the ACC Scheme, as the reports will be publicly available," the bill states.

This would allow the agency to then deliver services in a way that supported access to the scheme.

Māori are less likely than non-Māori to make an ACC claim but new research shows they receive the same level of support from ACC once their claim is accepted.

Two other major changes to the scheme are also being proposed.

The act will be tweaked to broaden its focus to helping all injured people, rather than just focusing on those that make ACC claims.

This should help people who have not made a claim, but might do if they had better access to the scheme.

Claimants off work due to an injury would also be able to access financial support sooner. The bill proposes bringing forward eligibility for the minimum rate of compensation from the sixth to the second week of incapacity.

"This will remove a financial hardship earlier in the recovery process, the change will allow them to better focus on that recovery," the bill states.

It is the second package of reforms to the scheme introduced by ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni after the cover for birth injuries was expanded in October, prompted by RNZ's reporting.

These latest changes would further reduce inequities in the scheme, Sepuloni said.

Carmel Sepuloni

ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni is introducing her second round of legislative reforms to the agency. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"ACC is a valuable part of Aotearoa New Zealand's social fabric, and helps to rehabilitate thousands of people each year, but we know that not everyone is able to access ACC equally," Sepuloni said.

"The drivers of access disparities are complex. ACC has done a considerable amount of work to understand these drivers, but these amendments will provide more tools for them to understand how to address these inequities.

"The data collected from annual reporting will be invaluable in understanding who is accessing ACC and how. And - even more importantly - who is not, and why not."

Barrister and researcher Warren Forster, who earlier this year wrote a report calling for a radical overhaul of the ACC system, said the changes being proposed were a "step in the right direction" and had the potential to be fairly significant.

"So that's, first of all, recognition that there are problems with the legislation and recognition that Parliament wants to know about those problems. So that's a good thing.

"The missing link is what is Parliament going to do about it? And that's something that isn't addressed in this legislation."

Broadening the scope of ACC to include all injured people was also a significant and "quite exciting" expansion of the scheme, but there were no details on how this might be delivered, he said.

Green Party ACC spokesperson, Jan Logie, agreed it was a good step forward.

"The reports last year showed that there's really significant barriers in the way of Māori, Pasifika, women and disabled people being able to get a fair go in terms of prevention, care and recovery through ACC.

"This bill focuses the organisation on needing to do better on delivering for those communities, the bits that are missing, actually a commitment to honouring the Treaty and the purpose of the organisation and the legislative change that's already been identified in terms of making sure that the legislation reflects more than the needs of white men without impairments, which is how it was written."

Jan Logie

Jan Logie Photo: Pool / NZME

Analysis identified ACC's partial payment system, injury definition and how compensation was paid, were all barriers to Māori and Pasifika, Logie said.

Andrew Dickson, who fought ACC for five years to get his son's birth injury covered, cautiously welcomed the proposed changes.

"If ACC is serious about helping all injured people, not just claimants, it would automatically cover every child that had a hard birth. Five years later you might discover they are fine, but if ACC cover is in place then they would have access to that help from birth, and it's important because these kids need help right away."

Dickson said his son, Ben, now 12, was able to access a lot more help for his disability once his ACC claim had been accepted.

"It's a shame he did not have this from birth."

The bill's first reading would be passed under urgency so that it could be sent to the Education and Workforce Select Committee before Parliament breaks for Christmas.

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