Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Red tape 'hampers crime victims'

Police officers
The Tories say police are pursuing too many minor crimes

Victims of violent crimes are put off claiming compensation by complex forms and too much bureaucracy, MPs suggest.

Less than 5% of those eligible for sums of up to 500,000 are applying, the Commons public accounts committee said.

Two-thirds of victims are unaware of the scheme which covers England, Wales and Scotland, it added.

The committee said that last year there was a backlog of more than 80,000 cases. But the government claimed the system had improved since 2006.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said compensation was a "low priority" for ministers.

Targets

The committee found many victims of violent crime spent money on expensive lawyers because they did not know free legal help was on offer.

The report, Compensating Victims of Violent Crime, criticises the Ministry of Justice for failing to set the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) rigorous targets.

The committee said that, despite applications falling by 23%, the average time taken to resolve a complaint had increased from one year to 17 months.

The costs of administering the scheme had risen by 6m between 2000 and 2006, while staff productivity had fallen.

Sir Edward, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said he was concerned about how well the Ministry of Justice was fulfilling its objective of "placing victims at the heart of the criminal justice system".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "extraordinary" the situation had not improved since his committee published a similar report about the payments offered by the CIA eight years ago.

He said: "There are long, difficult forms and it then takes more than 17 months to get compensation.

He said: "Up to 20% of people employ solicitors but this service is supposed to be free. Bearing in mind, these people have been traumatised by violent crime - they can receive up to 250,000 but they are getting nothing.

It is time for a new compensation scheme that is quicker and less complicated for applicants
Nick Herbert
Conservative

"I suppose that somebody at the Treasury doesn't mind very much, because the money just stays in the public sector and it can be spent on other things.

"But I can't believe that's the motivation - I don't think anybody is that Machiavellian.

"I suspect that this is just a rather dopey, not well-regarded part of the ministry, without high-flyers working in it, and it's very poorly managed - and that's the simple answer.

"I doubt if anyone will be sacked from this useless authority."

For the Conservatives, shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: "It is time for a new compensation scheme that is quicker and less complicated for applicants."

'Passing the buck'

Compensation lawyer Richard Crabtree told the BBC the system was a "bureaucratic maze" and it took far too long for complaints to be resolved.

"It's a question of passing the buck from one person to another - nobody will actually deal with your enquiry, and it becomes quite frustrating both for the advisor and for the client."

But a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The government is determined to put the needs of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.

It "continues to improve the quality of the practical and emotional support victims receive, providing access to compensation, ensuring they have timely access to information, and ensuring their voice is heard in the system.

"Since 2006 the CICA have improved the access and quality of services for victims of violent crime and a more efficient case handling process is resulting in faster decisions."

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