How prudent policy reform can strengthen the Victims Support Scheme

The NSW Department of Communities and Justice is currently reviewing the Victims Rights and Support Act (2013) to determine whether the Act is effectively achieving its aims in practice – to promote the rights of victims of crime and provide them with the support they need.

Screenshot of the Victims Support Scheme webpage
Image: Screenshot from the Victims Services website, where you can find out more about the Victims Support Scheme

Many of our clients affected by domestic and family violence come to us for support applying to the Victims Support Scheme, so they can access counselling, pay for medical bills, pay for new housing and recover from the financial costs of violence.

We know from experience working alongside victim-survivors how arduous this application process can be, at a time when they are recovering from trauma.

We also know that it doesn’t need to be this hard for victim-survivors to access support.

Image: Screenshot from a factsheet on the Victims Support Scheme, which supports victims of violent crime

There are achievable reforms that could greatly improve the Scheme

This Statutory Review is a critical opportunity to update the Act.

We will be recommending achievable reforms that can significantly improve outcomes for victim-survivors. These recommendations reflect our experience supporting victim-survivors to access the Scheme.

Some of our key recommendations are to:

Remove the requirement for victims to prove injury for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Currently, even if it is accepted that a person is the primary victim of domestic and family violence, they are still required to prove that their injuries were caused by that crime in order to access support. This places an unnecessary burden on applicants to gather evidence, like medical records and police reports, that may not be easily available to them. Without the support of community legal centres like our own, many victim-survivors would not have the resources to do this.

Evidence from specialist domestic violence support workers should be considered as expert evidence alongside police reports. The Audit Office of NSW state in their 2022 review of Police responses to domestic and family violence: “research indicates that police forces across Australia, and internationally, have difficulty in identifying the primary aggressor, and practices are inconsistent.” Despite this, we believe Victims Services Assessors prioritise police reports over expert evidence from specialist domestic violence support workers to identify whether an applicant is a victim of domestic and family violence.

Improve capacity for victim-survivors to access their own information held by police. Our understanding is that Victims Services uses police data to assess an applicant’s claim. However, the applicant does not have access to this information, even when appealing a decision. It is a fundamental requirement of natural justice for applicants and/or their representatives to have all evidence used by Victims Services Assessors to make their determinations.

We will publish our final submission and full list of recommendations in July 2022.

How you can support reform