Examination of Witness (Questions 320-331)
MR HOWARD WEBBER
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
320. Of course the compensation culture has been alive in this country for longer than since 1996. Have your overall applications gone up in the last decade or more?
(Mr Webber) Slightly. I think ten years or so ago we were receiving around 70,000. It has gone up really slightly, I think, from 70,000 to 75/76,000 between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s and it has stayed, as I say, very steady over the last six years.
321. Of course the reason probably is that most, if not all, of your cases depend on a criminal conviction.
(Mr Webber) No, actually that is not the case. I think only about one-third of our applications involve a criminal conviction. The majority of offenders are not apprehended. It would obviously be unreasonable that if there is no doubt that the crime took place, but if there is no conviction, then it would be unfair to deny the victim compensation.
322. Then why do you think, given that if there is evidence of a massive outbreak of a compensation culture, that it has not had much impact on the number of applications to you?
(Mr Webber) I do not know at all. As I have said, we have done some work about this and we are doing things at the moment both to increase awareness of the Scheme because it may be that it simply is not sufficiently well known about, and also to target it better so that people who are ineligible do not waste their time and our time applying because we refuse in general about 47 per cent of applications. That is the general refusal rate. Now, that does not mean that they are fraudulent by any means, fraud is a tiny proportion of those, but there are a number of people obviously who should not be applying. We do occasionally receive applications from people who have just been run into by someone riding a bicycle and think they should receive compensation or people have had their television stolen and think they should get compensation. We want to make sure that for those types of cases, people do not waste their time and our time. I do not have any clear answer, I have to say, as to why the number has not gone up, but it is just a fact.
323. That it is nothing to be ashamed of.
(Mr Webber) No, I am not suggesting that it is.
324. You do not need to stand in the centre of town handing out leaflets, saying, "Have you tripped over a paving stone recently?"
(Mr Webber) No, but we do want to make sure that everyone who is eligible for compensation knows about their rights to it. And the police, under the Victim's Charter, are indeed obliged to inform all relevant victims of their right to compensation.
325. Why do you pay out from the public purse compensation where it cannot be shown or proven that an offence has taken place?
(Mr Webber) Obviously we only pay out where we are satisfied that an offence has indeed taken place. I cannot answer the question in that form because we would not pay out if we were not satisfied.
326. But if I said to you that I was abused 25/30 years ago, what would satisfy you to prove my case?
(Mr Webber) The sort of matters that I spoke of earlier. The GP notes from 25 or 30 years ago would show that you had been to the doctor complaining of matters which were entirely consistent with abuse, possibly psychologists' reports from that time or more recently, well before the application, which demonstrated that, police reports where other people have named you as a victim of abuse, and that sort of matter.
327. And if I had not gone to a doctor, nor had a psychiatrist's report, but had complained at least 20 years later and the police had gone and interviewed people and maybe pressed charges on the basis of my complaint, would you then award me compensation?
(Mr Webber) If there had been a conviction, I would imagine so, but obviously if there is the issue of a criminal record and so on which we have spoken about earlier, it might well lead to a reduction or refusal of an award.
328. But to the general public surely it would seem quite dubious and quite unreal for a public body to be paying out compensation in these circumstances where people make claims 20, 30, even 40 years after an alleged offence?
(Mr Webber) It would be very unlikely, actually it would be impossible for us to make any payment 40 years after the offence because we are barred from making compensation for offences before 1964. The longer ago it is, the better the evidence we will need and obviously, as I explained earlier, the better the reason for the delay in making the complaint.
329. So you can give a guarantee to the Committee that you are not throwing public money around willy-nilly?
(Mr Webber) I can certainly guarantee that we are not throwing money around willy-nilly. I cannot say that there have been no cases at all where we have paid out where we should not have done so, but we do have a fairly rigorous set of checks to make sure that money goes where it should go.
330. I just wanted to come back to the issue about getting these reports from some time back or from an institution which may be slightly more reluctant to give them. Do you have any views or ideas as to how exactly that can be made easier for you?
(Mr Webber) Where we are talking about reports from a long time ago, absolutely not because inevitably they will be just paper documents from many, many years ago. For the future, we hope to be able to be linked electronically more effectively with hospitals, with police forces and so on and that will make it easier for them and for us to obtain information. There are no easy answers apart from that because we are not, and there is no reason why we should be, on the top of anyone else's agenda.
331. If someone comes to you making a claim and in getting these reports you find that there are other people who may also be victims, do you have to go to those victims and tell them to make a claim?
(Mr Webber) No.
Chairman: Mr Webber, you have been very helpful. Thank you very much for coming. We shall no doubt meet again.