3 Mar 2022

Victim Support yet to draw on $3m fund intended for crime victims

3:16 pm on 3 March 2022

Not a cent of a new $3 million fund for victims of serious crimes has been spent despite applications opening up seven months ago.

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The funds were announced as part of last year's Wellbeing Budget. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The money was invested into the Victim Assistance Scheme (VAS), administered by Victim Support on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, out of Budget 2021.

It extends financial support to bereaved whānau or surviving victims affected by WorkSafe, Maritime New Zealand and Civil Aviation prosecutions.

The money also increases the number of sexual violence survivors now eligible for grants, generally used to cover counselling and travel-related costs.

It's been available since 1 July last year but an answer to a written parliamentary question shows none of it has been spent and no applications have been received.

Private victim advocate Ruth Money, who has worked with victims for more than a decade, said it's shocking but not surprising the money is still sitting there.

"My very strong feeling on it is that the Budget's done the right thing in that the money has been allocated but that there has been incompetent and negligent management sitting within Victim Support so that the information hasn't filtered down to the people on the frontline.

"I could almost guarantee that people on the frontline don't even know that these funds are available."

Implementation takes time - Victim Support

RNZ approached the Ministry of Justice which issued a statement attributed to its group manager of commissioning and implementation Hayley McKenzie.

She confirmed the VAS is there to provide practical help in the immediate aftermath of victimisation and to support victims' participation in the justice system.

She said Victim Support staff are aware of the support available through the scheme but that the implementation of new grants takes time.

Victim Support, through its own written statement, said it had met with regulatory agencies and was working with them on information and a process flowcart for internal use and wider distribution.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi declined to be interviewed by RNZ but provided a written statement that said the fund had only been in place since July last year.

"The fund provides consistency that hasn't existed before. It's anticipated demand for grants will build over time as more regulatory prosecutions are initiated and people fall within the eligibility criteria."

Additional information provided by the Minister's office shows it's expected the new funding will support victims associated with an average 28 deaths and 63 injuries prosecuted by WorkSafe, Maritime New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Authority each year.

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said it's not good enough money promised to help victims of crime in Budget 2021 is not reaching those it was set aside for.

"Sadly, there's there's no question there have been dozens of victims of serious crime, including those punished by WorkSafe, over the past year and they and their families are not getting the support promised by this government in the Budget."

Money said talk of more support for victims out of Wellington has not materialised on the frontline and if anything, accessing support victims are entitled to has gotten harder.

"Victims and survivors of crime are one of the most vulnerable groups in our community so they shouldn't be advocating for themselves, they shouldn't be going in to fight for any funding.

"And let's be very clear that the funding is an entitlement; you shouldn't have to beg, borrow and steal. In my experience, and many of the survivors that I support, we literally have to fight for entitlements.

"Until you're a victim of crime, you don't understand, you assume that you will be taken care of."

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