Representatives of six firms of solicitors have written to Lambeth council asking for a meeting to discuss revising the compensation scheme for victims of child abuse in children’s homes.
In a letter they highlight the “very real possibility” that a recipient of a Harm’s Way Payment will only receive compensation under one band when they could be entitled to more.
The letter – along with an equality report – have been made public by Shirley Oaks Survivors Association in the wake of Wednesday night’s council meeting which had to be abandoned and held behind closed doors because of protests by some SOSA supporters in the public gallery at Lambeth town hall.
“Some former residents of Lambeth’s children’s homes will only receive the Harm’s Way Payment, because their Individual Redress Payment will not exceed the Harm’s Way Payment threshold” says the letter.
“Therefore, a person who was placed in a home and who experienced a harsh environment, would get the same as a person who was at the same home at the same time, but who suffered (for instance) ‘One or more physical injuries requiring significant medical treatment but from which a full recovery has been made.’
“This is also a particular issue for those former residents who suffered years of racial abuse whilst in the homes, but no abuse that would qualify for an Individual Redress Payment. “It seems to us that in this regard, the Scheme discriminates against them although plainly that was never Lambeth’s intention.
“In a report to cabinet at last December’s meeting Lambeth said ‘It has been suggested that the council could make blanket Harm’s Way Payments based on residence alone.’ ‘This would amount to an unlawful fetter of its discretion and would not be considered fair as between former residents in differing circumstances.’
“This paragraph is important because it demonstrates Lambeth’s clear intention to avoid any unfairness arising out of the application of a Harm’s Way Payment to this Scheme.
“Regrettably, and for the reasons that we have explained above, that intention to produce fairness has not succeeded.
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this anomaly with you, to see if the Scheme can be varied or implemented in such a way as to avoid this plain and obvious injustice.
“It also seems prudent to take this opportunity to suggest that there be set up a small joint committee to discuss any further problems that may arise under the Scheme” the letter ends.
In a statement Lambeth council told News From Crystal Palace: “The present council has been clear that we have to take responsibility for a historic failure to protect children in our care from the 1930s until the 1980s and 1990s.
“The Lambeth Children’s Homes Redress Scheme which opened in January is the first of its kind in the country. “It offers swift and compassionate redress of up to £125,000, including the unique Harms Way Payment.
“The Harms Way Payment was developed in consultation with SOSA and their legal advisors after initial proposals for a £1,000 common experience payment were rejected.
“Survivors told us that they wanted the Harms Way Payment to be up to £10,000 so people who suffered at the former children’s homes could get compensation in a non-adversarial, quick and straightforward manner with far lesser risk of re-traumatising them.
“Compensating people with a Harms Way Payment and individual redress payment through this scheme means that compensation is not reduced by lawyer’s fees as is too often the case when claims go to court.
“The council believes all applicants to the scheme will all get at least as much compensation than if they went to court, and the Harms Way Payment means that many people will get compensation who would otherwise have missed out entirely.
“The scheme also provides an independent appeal process to review levels of compensation, as requested by survivors.
“More than 450 people have already applied to the redress scheme and its progress is being monitored on an ongoing basis, with an official review due in July. “Where instances of inequalities are flagged, such as compensation for less serious abuse falling short of the Harms Way Payment, we will review the award on a case by case basis.”