BY TOBY PORTER
Solicitors have written to town hall chiefs warning that compensation for historic victims of child abuse are not fair.
More than 1,000 people have applied for payments from Lambeth’s redress scheme – but the biggest law firm advising them has criticised how it is being implemented.
Solicitors Switalskis, acting for the victims, said there was a risk that the people who suffered the worst abuse would not get the highest settlement.
It has written twice to the council in the last two months – saying that former residents who experienced racial abuse should be put in a special category, because of how that probably affected their chances of a career.
The letter to Kennedys, who are acting for the council, said: “To date, the scheme has felt adversarial and unmanageable.
There is a lack of trust and both applicants and their representatives are dissatisfied. At present, this is not a scheme that we would want replicated.
“Applicants are, in effect, often penalised due to the incomplete records kept by the NHS or other Government departments at the time they were in care or at the time when their psychiatric injury was recorded in their medical notes.
“Younger applicants, whose records are more complete, may be receiving higher offers which has the effect of being discriminatory against older applicants.
“Many applicants have very obvious trauma and damage from their time in care but have, understandably, only hazy memories.
A lack of evidence and/or weak statements lead to low value claims for applicants with high expectations arising from genuine, long-term emotional impact.
Kennedys are, as standard, pushing back on these applicants when it is quite apparent that the applicants have suffered psychiatric damage as a result of their time in the care of Lambeth.
“Kennedys’ fee earners are making no or low band 4 offers.
Fee earners are refusing to accept obvious links between abuse in the school/home, and poor educational attainment, even where there is evidence of educational decline while in the care of Lambeth.
“We have no doubt that the councillors that passed the scheme had genuine intentions to better the lives of those who had been failed by Lambeth with a swift and fair scheme. As expressed during our meeting, to date the scheme has felt more akin to civil litigation.
“We are finding that the way in which offers are dealt with is more akin to civil proceedings ie. Kennedys’ fee earner makes a low offer, the applicant solicitor makes a reasonable offer and the parties compromise and meet in the middle.
“We are also finding that there is a lack of a reasoned explanation as to how determinations on quantum have been reached.
This is not the purpose of the scheme and will result in applicants who have suffered similar abuse walking away with dissimilar settlements.”
The Yorkshire-based Switalskis also believe victims of racist abuse in the homes should have a special sort of compensation.
Their letter added: “Black people who experience racism are less likely to reach the goals of their white counterparts and will be tormented by feelings of self-hate and self-blame believing that their failure is due to personal inadequacies rather than the wrongs of society.
“We note that there is no reference to compensation for those that suffered racism and that it is being treated as an ‘aggravating factor’.
We consider this to be wrong. The scheme rightly recognises the psychological impact of sexual abuse but fails to deal with the psychological impact of racial abuse.”
Lambeth has now made more than 1,000 payments to people who lived in its care homes and £18.5millon paid to them.
A Lambeth council spokesperson said: “We apologise to survivors of abuse who were so very badly let down.
We pledge that this council will not be like previous ones and will continue to face up to the past.
“We have worked with survivors to develop a compassionate redress scheme, assisted the police with fresh prosecutions and provided more than 120,000 pages of documents to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
That inquiry, from 2020, will hear the extent of any failures in Lambeth on sexual abuse and exploitation. We will cooperate fully with the inquiry.
“The council’s redress scheme is the first of its kind in the country. We know it’s not just about the money, so we include a formal apology from the council, a meeting with a senior council representative and free counselling support.
“We recognise survivors of abuse find it hard to trust the organisation that so badly let them down. We are working hard on this scheme and offering support that makes good on the current council’s pledge to do all it can for survivors.
We recognise former residents were exposed to a harsh environment. This compensation of up to £10,000 is paid quickly, within 43 working days on average, and has a low burden of proof. “Compensation of this kind would not be available through any other route.
“Compensation is also available for abuse suffered. These claims of up to £125,000 have to be assessed, but the assessment level is lower than if the same claims went to court – and the claims are also being dealt with faster than the courts.
“Where more evidence is presented compensation can increase. We are being open and transparent about how the scheme is run, with six-month reviews published of the compensation being paid. Any applicant not happy with the level of compensation can appeal to an independent appeal panel.
“We continue to listen to survivors as we make good on our pledges to them, and guarantee that when applicants solicitors present reasoned and evidenced concerns we will address them.”