Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

More ACC clients going on to welfare

Green MP Kevin Hague. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Green MP Kevin Hague. File photo / Mark Mitchell

The proportion of long-term ACC clients moving on to benefits has surged since the corporation adopted a tough new stance, which has fuelled allegations that they are being forced off compensation before they are rehabilitated.

Figures supplied by the corporation yesterday also show it has slashed the number of long-term claimants on its books by a quarter since mid-2009.

Concerns about the corporation's tough approach to long-term claims adopted three years ago were stoked this week when Green MP Kevin Hague produced official documents showing ACC managers' pay was linked to the number of long-term claimants they were able to remove from the corporation's books.

Mr Hague also raised concerns, which first emerged during a series of Herald articles, that the corporation was using "handpicked" medical specialists to provide opinions supporting its decisions to deny claimants benefits.

ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart yesterday dismissed allegations that claimants were being denied support before they were ready to re-enter the workforce.

"No-one can leave ACC unless they're rehabilitated first", he told National Radio.

But yesterday's figures show that the proportion of long-term claimants leaving ACC and going on to health-related, unemployment or domestic purposes benefits rose sharply from early 2009.

In the five years to 2008, the proportion going on to benefits was 12.1 per cent, but during 2009 that rose to 16.4. In the first five months of 2010, the most recent data held by ACC, the proportion rose to 19.4 per cent.

ACC figures also showed the corporation had reduced the number of long-term claimants on its books by 3644 or 25 per cent to 10773 in the three years since June 2009. That reduction is well ahead of ACC's targets.

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little said the rise in the proportion going on to welfare and the reduction in total long-term claimants were "artificially high".

"It sounds like there is an active programme to manage people off ACC regardless of where they go, which is contrary to ACC's obligation to rehabilitate people back to work.

"Those figures suggest to me they've got their priorities wrong and that's what has to change."

The ACC said "where a client has the capacity to work but does not have employment, ACC is no longer the best government agency to continue to provide financial support".

It also said many clients had significant health issues in addition to their accident-related injury needs.

"Clients in this situation are most appropriately supported by a Ministry of Social Development health-related benefit as their incapacity is no longer as a result of personal injury."

Meanwhile, ACC Minister Judith Collins has agreed to meet Green MP Kevin Hague to discuss his party's "rehabilitation plan" to tackle what he describes as "a sick culture"' at the state-owned accident insurer.

In the wake of the Bronwyn Pullar privacy breach fiasco, Ms Collins has said ACC's culture needs to change, but she has focused on privacy and client-service issues, saying she has seen no evidence that clients are being unfairly denied entitlements.

She has dismissed the Greens' proposal that ACC's funding model return to the "pay as you go" approach abandoned in favour of "future funding" by National in 1998.

However, Mr Hague yesterday said he was heartened that Ms Collins had indicated last week that she was prepared to meet with him to discuss his concerns about the corporation. The pair are to meet on July 18.

- NZ Herald

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