Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors of abuse are being warned to watch out for ‘claim farmers’.
‘Claim farming’ is when someone contacts a survivor of abuse without their knowledge or permission, encouraging them to make a claim for compensation.
The survivor might be harassed or intimidated, and charged a large amount of money for being helped with their compensation claim.
National organisation, knowmore provides free advice to survivors and says it’s seen a dramatic rise in the practice, with survivors being targeted by for-profit survivor advocacy businesses and lawyers.
knowmore’s Director of First Nations Engagement, Kuku Yalanji man, Gary Oliver has been travelling around the country and has heard some worrying stories.
“One of the examples I heard in the Northern Territory most recently, was of someone who received $100,000 payment as part of a claim. But $40,000 of it was owed to the law firm to do that work for them.
Now that $40,000 plus other costs called disbursements, services like researching, doing photocopying and things like that [were also charged], so a big chunk of money went to the law firm.
Another story that has been relayed to us was that even before the Victorian Stolen Generations Reparations Package was announced, ‘claim farmers’ were already trying to get people to sign up and go through them. It’s a business model that’s out there.”
Mr Oliver says Indigenous survivors of abuse need to know that it’s free to put in a compensation claim for any of the current schemes.
“The claims like the National Redress Scheme, which came out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault, is a free claim process. So there’s no cost to you. If you get $100,000, that $100,000 is what you get.”
Mr Oliver says knowmore has a team of people ready to support survivors and can offer Aboriginal engagement workers, social workers, financial counsellors and lawyers which can help survivors with their claims for free.
knowmore has been calling on all State and Territory governments to follow Queensland’s lead in updating legislation to protect survivors from exploitative claim farming practices.
Mr Oliver says there needs to be a national approach to protect survivors of abuse.
“We would like to see a uniformed piece of legislation, not only for the National Redress Scheme (NRS), not only for the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme, but for any scheme that comes out in the future. There needs to be a capping of the costs that are payable. We’ve been discussing this with the States’ Attorneys-General and the Attorney-General at the Federal level as well.”
Mr Oliver says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors can protect themselves by never signing anything they don’t understand.
“If you don’t understand what you’re signing up to, don’t sign. Some of these law firms may be big law firms that you recognise the names of and they’re supported by litigation funds.”
Mr Oliver admits while this part of his job isn’t easy, he also gets to hear the positive stories on how compensation has helped mob.
“Last year, we heard about an individual that got a maximum amount payment which will really help that individual with their life, and we have financial counsellors and social workers that can support them. But hearing stories from some Indigenous survivors who have got their payment saying, ‘oh, now I can buy a bed’, things like that which are the basic necessities in life.”
For information on eligibility for current schemes or to access other Knowmore services, ring the free advice line on 1800 605 762, and ask to speak to an Aboriginal Engagement Officer or head to knowmore.org.au.