Child Youth and Family (CYF) has paid out more than $1 million in compensation in the last two years as it ramps up the settlement of historical claims of neglect and abuse.

Figures released yesterday show the number of claims settled and the amount paid out have increased during the last two years.

A total of $334,912 was paid out on 31 claims last year, increasing to $837,000 on 55 claims this year. Figures for previous years were not provided.

The Ministry of Social Development pays compensation in cases where it has acknowledged its care was deficient, including cases of neglect and abuse.

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It said it had no legal obligation to offer the ex gratia payments, but a moral duty to do so.

Many of the claims relate to historical cases dating back as far as the 1940s.

A ministry spokeswoman said compensation had not exploded during the last two years, but the ministry had been "sorting out things that should have been sorted out years ago''.

The amount of compensation depends on the loss or harm suffered while in state care, ranging from one-off errors to ongoing harm.

CYF can pay out up to $30,000, while amounts between $30,000 and $75,000 need ministerial approval. Larger payouts must be approved by Cabinet.

Lobby group Family First, which requested the figures under the Official Information Act, has renewed calls for an independent body to look into claims.

Director Bob McCoskrie said CYF did an important job in difficult circumstances, but it was essential there was external accountability.

"Ex gratia payments are made well after the damage has been done,'' he said.

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"The only option for families is either a costly court process where CYF have an unlimited pool of resources to defend its actions, courtesy of the taxpayer, or trying to get in front of the existing complaints panel.''

Mr McCoskrie said an independent complaints body was desperately needed.

"An independent CYF Complaints Authority will ensure that appropriate policy and procedures have been followed, will be in the best interests of the social workers, and will result in public confidence and accountability for actions and decisions by CYF workers.''