Hundreds of people who were sexually abused before 1974 appear to have been shut out of state-funded counselling under new accident compensation rules.

Nelson-based consultancy Access Support Services has obtained an internal Accident Compensation Corporation email suggesting that a client could be refused funding for more counselling because she was sexually abused before ACC was created in 1974.

Access director David Wadsworth said the restriction applied only to people who originally claimed help from ACC before 1992, when the law was changed to define the date of a "mental injury" as "the date on which the person first receives treatment for that mental injury".

But he said the change would affect hundreds, if not thousands, of claimants who lodged their first claims before then.

His client, a woman now in her early 50s who was abused in her childhood in the 1960s, was granted counselling in 1986, initially for an event that happened in October 1985. She disclosed the childhood abuse only a few years later.

She was granted ACC-funded counselling and income compensation for several years, then returned to work, but recently had a relapse and applied for further counselling.

The internal email dated January 20 from Allanah Andrews, a technical claims manager in ACC's sensitive claims unit, says the woman's disorder "predated the event in 1985 and therefore, in my opinion, should not be considered for cover by ACC".

It says an independent assessment is being arranged "with a specific view to confirm what, if any, is the coverable mental injury due to the 1985 event".

But it asks the corporation's customer services technical support division: "Do you feel that this is the most appropriate action for this claim, or could entitlements be suspended on the basis of the multitude of reports on file that attribute the mental injury to pre-ACC events?"

ACC senior medical adviser Dr Peter Jansen confirmed that counselling was now being provided for sexual abuse only where there was a mental injury caused by sexual abuse or assault at a time covered by the law.

"For some, there will arise the issue of covering entitlements because of when the claim was lodged," he said.

"The practice has been that counselling has been provided without any determination of cover. That is what happened in the past.

"This [new practice] came about because prior to 2002, when the Massey University guidelines were happening, people didn't have a handle on how to make a good assessment and diagnostic formulation, so counselling began without any determination of cover.

"Cover was not really thought about. That was an unfortunate situation."

But Mr Wadsworth said he would challenge any refusal to provide counselling for pre-1974 abuse because he believed the 1992 amendment clarified the law, providing that coverage was available from the date treatment began.

ACC's "clinical pathway" for sexual abuse claims, introduced last October, also required that victims be diagnosed with a specific mental condition before counselling could be provided.

Emma Castle of Manukau's Counselling Services Centre said her agency had had only four claims approved under the new rules so far, compared with an average of about one a week under the previous rules.

* Sexual abuse helpline: 09-623-1700.