In 2018, the Australian Government announced the implementation of The National Redress Scheme to provide a means of support and recourse for survivors of childhood sexual abuse – instead of suing the perpetrator and/or any responsible entity or institution for damages (lump sum compensation) for their pain and suffering and losses arising from their abuse. Within this article, Partner Jake Gardiner highlights what the National Redress Scheme is and discusses recent legislative changes aimed at improving access to justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. 

The National Redress Scheme?

The Scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 and has a 10-year deadline; the deadline of 30 June 2027 is fast approaching.

The Scheme allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse to:

  1. Lump sum compensation of up to $150,000 (the average payment being approximately $87,000);
  2. Lifetime counselling; and
  3. An apology.

The National Redress Scheme’s second review commenced in 2021. The review lasted nine months. Ultimately, it was concluded that the scheme urgently needed to be improved to achieve its objectives better; 38 recommendations were proposed.

In March 2024, a bill was passed in federal Parliament, implementing some of the 38 recommendations.  These amendments are significant for those who wish to make a claim to The National Redress Scheme for childhood sexual abuse.

We outline below what these changes might mean for yourself, a family member, a friend or another survivor who may wish to apply to the Scheme:

Applications whilst incarcerated

Previously, survivors who were currently in prison, for the most part, were not able to successfully lodge a claim to the scheme whilst they were in jail – at least not without special approval.

The recent legislative changes mean that survivors can now lodge a claim from prison while incarcerated. This is significant for survivors as, sadly, many fall into the criminal justice system due to the impacts of their abuse: the previous restriction placed an unfair barrier to justice for many. The amendments ensure that survivors can access justice and support promptly, before the conclusion of the Scheme.

Criminal Convictions

Previously, any survivor sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for a single offence could only access the Scheme via a unique assessment process.

As of March 2024, however, if you have not been sentenced to a sentence of five years or more for a serious offence involving unlawful killing, a sexual offence, or a terrorism offence, the special assessment process will not apply.

Not only does this change allow a broader scope of survivors to apply to the Scheme, but it also acknowledges the strong school of thought that adverse childhood experiences can often lead to criminal offending and associated incarceration.

Review process

We understand that it is hard for survivors to open up about their experiences completely and therefore, in some cases, pivotal information may not yet be disclosed to the Scheme at the time of applying, especially if the survivor has applied without professional assistance. Many self-represented applicants may not understand the compensation matrix and the implications of not fully disclosing all elements of abuse in terms of the compensation sum offered.

The National Redress Scheme could also seemingly appreciate this.  You can now provide new information when requesting a review of a decision, with a fresh, independent decision-maker, all of the provided information and supporting documentation to make a new decision.

The decision-maker can also request new information as part of the review process.

This modified review process aims to protect survivors by ensuring that all appropriate facts and evidence are obtained and considered, as far as possible, to ensure a fair determination of a survivor’s entitlement to compensation.

Changes to disclosure of protected information

The Scheme will now allow information regarding “non-participating institutions”, that is. These institutions have yet to join the National Redress Scheme, which will be shared with survivors who have named the institution in their applications.

Re-assessment of claims

Initially, when applying for the Scheme, you could not provide information on new institutions relevant to the claim later down the line. This, previously, may have presented as an issue as you can only make one application to The National Redress Scheme for all institutions and all experiences of childhood sexual abuse.

The Scheme now allows applications to be re-assessed should an institution join the scheme after an application has been finalised. Hence, a survivor may be entitled to further compensation in the circumstances.

This aims to ensure survivors are not disadvantaged and that they receive the maximum compensation amount.

How Evolve Legal Can Assist with the National Redress Scheme

It is imperative to seek out legal advice before deciding on any legal action concerning childhood sexual abuse. Importantly,  suppose a survivor accepts an offer of compensation under the Scheme. In that case, they will be precluded from pursuing a claim for damages (unrestricted lump sum compensation) for any abuse against the responding institution – that is, physical or sexual abuse for which the survivor holds the institution responsible.

Also, any decision is final—if an offer is accepted, it cannot be undone if a survivor has a change of heart.

At Evolve Legal, our legal experts have represented many survivors of abuse. We understand that it requires great courage to come forward and share childhood experiences. We treat our clients with respect and empathy and support them through the legal process. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance to the subject matter and must not be relied on as legal advice. Specific advice should be sought about your circumstances.