2018
Tuesday December 11, 2018
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 10:39

Talk to the phone, not the face

Claimant advocate Mike Dixon McIver outside ACC's Masterton branch office Claimant advocate Mike Dixon McIver outside ACC's Masterton branch office PIERS FULLER/STUFF

ACC phone into dispute hearings despite a judge ruling this method was ineffective.

ACC set up a Resolution Services team last July. Staff are based in Dunedin, Lower Hutt, Hamilton, and Auckland, and generally teleconference into local meetings.

Furthermore, the Government agency does not consistently file pre-hearing submissions. Claimants have technical jargon thrown at them in the dispute resolution meetings they cannot prepare for, feeling like the system is stacked against them.

ACC claimant Bruce Van Essen of Dunedin strongly objects to the use of teleconferencing in decision hearings. Photo: Chris Sullivan

District Court judge Paul Barber made clear his disdain for the use of teleconferencing at hearings as early as 2008, describing the method of participation as "ineffective".

"In at least one other fairly recent decision I have deplored the practice of ACC staff expecting to be involved in a Review Hearing by telephone," he said in his ruling.

Dunedin barrister and ACC specialist Warren Forster has long complained ACC procedures are unfair. Photo: Ross Giblin

Dunedin barrister and researcher Warren Forster specialises in access to justice for ACC claimants, and said procedural fairness had long been an issue at these hearings.

He suspects one reason for ACC's failure to sometimes file submissions in advance and failure to enforce that requirement may be because of excessive workload on contracted independent dispute resolution service and the resolutions team.

"This problem was entirely predictable," Forster said.

"The system is fully loaded and bulging at the seams. My impression is that the current staffing numbers at ACC...cannot manage their significant workload."
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Masterton advocate Mike Dixon-McIver said a previous practice of holding hearings with an independent reviewer and a local ACC technical claims manager from the local branch in person was much preferable to the current teleconferencing situation.

Dixon-McIver participated in two hearings recently where ACC had not made a written submission prior to the hearing.

"Nobody from ACC is actually at these hearings.

"When ACC is presenting its submission, how could a claimant follow a telephone conversation which could be 30 minutes long on technical points without their written submissions in front of them?"

ACC spokesman James Funnell said written submissions were "normally" provided to the claimant prior to the hearing, but admitted that was not always the case.

"It is very unusual for ACC not to provide written submissions before a review hearing. However, before all reviews clients, or their advocates, receive a copy of their file from us, and this includes all the information about that claim."

Claimant Bruce Van Essen of Dunedin is deeply suspicious of ACC's propensity to phone in representation for these critical review hearings on decisions that can have deep and long-lasting impacts on people's lives.

"I am totally against ACC attending by teleconference, especially when district court rulings have criticised this form of dealing with the review."

Funnell said it had used teleconferencing for review hearings for years because of the logistics of having staff travelling around the country.

"However when a review is complex, or the client has hearing difficulties, we endeavour to attend face to face."

"We are currently exploring video conference as another option for both ACC and claimants/advocates to use."

The latest figures from ACC show there were 7,223 reviews lodged in 2016/17, up from 6,533 in 2015/16, but not as high as five years ago when they conducted 8,538 reviews.

ACC said it has hired temporary staff to clear a backlog.

In an explanatory video on ACC's website they call the hearings "an informal process", but in actuality they can be very formal court-like proceedings that are a claimant's best shot of getting ACC's decision overturned.

Van Essen felt the description of the hearings as "informal" was misleading.

"A review is a very daunting process if you have not been involved in one before and for ACC to bluff people into attending and saying let's sit and talk to try and resolve the problem is not far short of devious tactics in my opinion."

In some cases claimants have no idea of the the case against them until it is thrust upon them at the eleventh hour, he said.

"ACC will play it down and say 'let's go to a review, we can talk about it and try and resolve it' and when the claimant turns up, ACC has full-on submissions, and the claimant has nothing of the sort, not even any submissions and in the end the result is a fail."

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