Tuesday November 13, 2018
Monday, 29 October 2018 17:13

ACC says bogus case managers for "high risk" claimants legal

Barrister Warren Forster says a High Court ruling about the use of fake names applied to ACC and the practice was unlawful. ACC has said managers of some high risk claimants will continue using pseudonyms for safety reasons. Barrister Warren Forster says a High Court ruling about the use of fake names applied to ACC and the practice was unlawful. ACC has said managers of some high risk claimants will continue using pseudonyms for safety reasons. Ross Giblin/Stuff

ACC says it will continue using fake staff names despite the High Court outlawing a similar practice by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

Last month Justice David Collins found in favour of a Taranaki woman's claim the use of fake names by Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Benefit Review Committee members was unfair.

The woman had a long history of disputes with the ministry and was one of about 80 clients deemed to pose a threat to MSD staff and managed by a remote client unit.

Ex-soldier Peter Firmin is one of an estimated 212 ACC claimants assigned to a remote claim unit where case managers use a pseudonym. Firmin says the practice is unfair for those who question their entitlement. Photo: SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

The ministry said it was necessary to use fake names to ensure the safety of committee members.

In his judgement on September 26, Justice Collins said the use of fictitious names meant the woman could not challenge the selection of committee members who may have a bias against her.

Blenheim man Peter Firmin is one of 220 ACC claimants in a remote claims unit for people deemed to be high risk. The Ex-soldier said he posed no risk but simply wanted to be treated fairly and receive what he was entitled to.  Photo: SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

The practice had breached her right to natural justice. 

On Friday MSD deputy chief executive of service delivery Viv Rickard said the Ministry had accepted the court ruling and would stop using pseudonyms in Benefit Review Committee cases. 

Instead, MSD would be stepping up security measures "to ensure staff are safe from potentially dangerous clients", Rickard said. 

Currently 220 ACC clients have their claims managed by staff in a remote claims unit whose members use fake names.

The corporation would not be making any changes to the practice, a spokesman said.  

"We looked at our use of pseudonyms in light of the recent High Court decision, and are satisfied that our use is in a different context; is lawful, and is necessary, given the responsibility to keep our employees safe."

Independent reviewers were appointed under the Accident Compensation Act to review decisions claimants wanted to challenge. Those reviewers who were the equivalent of MSD's Benefit Review Committee members did not use pseudonyms, the spokesman said.

Barrister Warren Forster said the High Court ruling did apply to ACC and all public authorities which had power to made decisions about people's rights. 

"ACC is a public authority. It has to follow a fair and transparent process that accords with natural justice. It's not doing so and it's hiding behind fake case managers." 

Forster said the larger issue was about how ACC was managing relationships with people in the remove claims unit.

"We need kinder and more compassionate interactions between ACC and people who ACC finds difficult to manage. Other government agencies are doing a lot of work to repair relationships and ACC needs to do the same." 

Blenheim ACC claimant Peter Firmin was badly injured while he was a soldier in the New Zealand Defence Force during a military training exercise in 1986 at the age of 23.

He started receiving ACC compensation payments in 1988 but maintained the amount was incorrect for 15 years before a judge found in his favour in 2014.

In 1997, following a failed bid to have his case heard, he took a man hostage at Woodburne Air Base and was jailed for over four years.

After his release in 2002 he was assigned a case manager but was transferred to the remote claims unit eight months later after he began taping the meetings. 

Communication with clients in the unit is restricted to letters and an 0800 phone message service. 

Firmin only learned his case managers had been using bogus names last year and found it dehumanising.

"How can you trust people who use fake names?"

He said he had always been polite and respectful while advocating to receive what he was entitled to.


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