New Zealands ACC Sensitive Claims Unit

The compensation of crime victims in New Zealand differs from other countries in that crime victims are treated in the same way as accident victims by New Zealand’s state owned ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation).

ACC is the sole and compulsory provider of accident insurance in New Zealand for all physical and/or psychological injuries. In July of 1999 the government allowed private insurance operators to provide work-related accident insurance, and ACC was briefly exposed to competition. Following the election of the Fifth Labour government in November 1999, competition was repealed, and as of the 1st July 2000, ACC was re-instated as the sole provider of accident insurance coverage.

The ACC Act came into being after a Royal Commission chaired by Mr Justice Woodhouse (the Woodhouse Commission) was appointed in 1966 to review workers’ compensation, but went beyond its remit and submitted a significant report in 1967 which embodied the “social contract” approach to accident compensation given legal effect in 1972. The result was a legislated scheme of social insurance and the ousting of other remedies, including civil actions under the law of tort. However, as Ursula Cheer (1995) Lecturer in Law, University of Canterbury points out, “when governments enact comprehensive legislation, they coincidentally enact for themselves the right to amend that legislation on an on-going basis.”1

The ability for the government to “amend” legislation would come back to haunt New Zealanders’ and greatly compromise the original intent of the Woodhouse Commission’s findings.

I.e. The Woodhouse Commission had based its wide-ranging proposals on five key principles. These being:

1)    Collective or community responsibility

2)     Comprehensive entitlement

3)     Complete rehabilitation

4)    Real compensation

5)    Administrative efficiency

However, things changed significantly from the Woodhouse Commission’s “social contract”  paradigm to a desire to control the expenditure associated with the scheme and to “balance the books” after the 1990 elections when the NZ National party sort to reform the scheme in terms of its fairness and affordability. Costs were seen to be rising and insufficient funding was predicted by the end of 1993. As a result, the Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Act (ARCIA) 1992  came into being. The outcome was a government corporation acting as insurance company while, at the same time, limiting its liability.2

Since 1992 successive changes have been made to the ACC Act, all of which have further watered down the original intent of the Woodhouse Commission’s  “social contract” beginnings.

The end result? Todays ACC is slated by watchdogs and media for, among other things, the use of hatchet doctors (a small group of doctors claimed to receiving large payments in return for medical assessments that help the corporation take costly, long term claimants off its books), acting illegally, breach of privacy, cronyism and failure of duty of care.

Further, the ACC loses 50% of all claim cases that go to independent review. The ACC Independent review process is a formal process where both sides (the ACC and the claimant) meet with an independent and unbiased reviewer. The reviewer looks at all of the information that has been provided and makes a decision on what needs to be done to resolve the dispute. This can be anything from upholding the original ACC decision to overturning it, including decisions about money and payments.

Most benefits are now paid under rigid regulation which do not provide any discretion. Lump sum payments have been abolished and replaced with “independence allowances” of up to $84 NZD per week for a 100 per cent disability. There are limits on claims for mental injury which essentially exclude such claims unless the mental injury is an outcome of physical injuries to that person. Consequently, it has been necessary for the Act to be amended to provide specific remedies for “victims” of sexual crimes and historic abuse.3

These claims  fall under the mandate of the ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit (SCU).

ACC Sensitive Claims Unit

Upon even vague inspection the ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit is anything but “Sensitive”.  For instance, in 2007 nearly 6000 claims were lodged. Some 3991 were accepted and 1928 were declined. By 2012 only 49 claims were accepted. Ten per cent of claims were accepted in 2010; 4 per cent in 2011; and 4 per cent in 2012.”  (Source:

Additionally, opinion surrounding the ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit is hardly encouraging.

From Access Support Services (January 2010):


“Access Support Services understands ACC are looking at stopping all entitlements to claimants who lodged sexual abuse claims under former Acts if the actual abuse occurred prior to the introduction of the ACC scheme in 1974. If this is the case then hundreds, if not thousands, of claimants suffering from a mental illness caused by sexual abuse will be exited from the ACC scheme.”


“Access Support Services considers this policy change is wrong in law and its advocates will vigorously challenge any decision ACC makes to revoke cover for this group of claimants” said Mr Wadsworth. “If ACC do implement this new attack on claimants suffering from sexual abuse then, in my opinion, it will have blood on its hands.”

[End Quote]

Later, outlining in November 2010:


“Last year ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit (SCU), based in Wellington, implemented its new clinical pathways for claimants suffering from the effects of sexual abuse. It also adopted the so-called “tough love” policy drafted by one of its senior officials, Phil Riley, who set out a strategy on how to exit claimants from the Scheme, including suspending entitlements.”

[End Quote]

From Scoop Media (November 2010):


“Shutdown ACC’s ‘Sensitive Claims Unit’

Last year ACC’s Sensitive Claims Unit (SCU), based in Wellington , implemented its new clinical pathways for claimants suffering from the effects of sexual abuse. It also adopted the so-called “tough love” policy drafted by one of its senior officials, Phil Riley, who set out a strategy on how to exit claimants from the Scheme, including suspending entitlements.

The consequence of these two policies is that the SCU often requires rape victims to undergo multiple physiatrist assessments or risk having entitlements suspended or not provided at all. This heavy handed approach has a re-traumatising effect on victims of sexual abuse.”

[End Quote]

From (November 2011):


“ACC has been accused of breaking the law by refusing to comply with a review ordering it to reinstate rehabilitation for a rape complainant.

The woman said she was making good progress under the Accident Compensation Corporation “training for independence” programme – until the corporation cut her from the programme last October.

She later successfully challenged the decision, with reviewer Rex Woodhouse concluding ACC “was wrong in suspending the applicant’s ongoing entitlements”.

He quashed ACC’s decision in July and said the corporation “must now reinstate the applicant’s entitlements”.

But ACC has told the woman, whose name is suppressed, that she must be assessed by another psychiatrist – at least the fourth different psychiatrist since her claim was accepted by ACC.

This comes as the Government considers whether to lower levies for taxpayers in return for reduced benefits.

The woman’s Wellington lawyer, Johanne Greally, said ACC was breaking the law and trying to change the rules.

Until ACC cut the woman from the independence programme in October last year, her only entitlement was that programme, Mrs Greally said.

“The review did not tell ACC to give her another psychiatrist and then look at her entitlements … ACC are bound by the reviewer’s decision. That’s the law.”

- © Fairfax NZ News

[End Quote]

From (August 2009):


“Louise Nicholas, Survivor Advocate for Rape Prevention Education, is absolutely disgusted with ACC Sensitive Claim Unit’s (SCU) proposed changes that will make it harder for survivors of rape and sexual abuse to access therapy.

Currently survivors have 4 sessions with a counsellor to disclose their abuse experiences before their claim is assessed for ongoing therapy. Often survivors will choose to have ongoing therapy with the counsellor that they have already built a relationship with.

The new Clinical Pathway which is proposed to come into effect 14th September 2009, will make the survivor tell their “story” three times to three different professionals and they can be declined help at any stage in this process; they have to ‘prove’ they have a mental injury which fits the criteria for a psychiatric problem.

A person who has been affected by rape or sexual abuse can take many years to disclose their trauma.

Finding someone who they can trust to disclose to is often a major issue as there are many barriers that need to be dealt with before they even get to the stage of being able to talk about the actual abuse incident.

Many survivors, especially children, are threatened by the perpetrator with loss of their lives or whanau and friends lives if they tell, or “no-one will believe you if you tell, you will be called a liar…

I am shocked to see that ACC state that “shorter term therapy is more beneficial for clients than longer term therapy”.

Many survivors, including myself, speak about the difficulty in being able to open up and talk about their experiences which needs to be at their own pace and with someone they trust which is vital in their healing process.

The ACC Draft Clinical Pathways Provider Workshop that I attended in Auckland this month, was not about seeking “better services” for survivors; in my opinion it was obviously about cutting costs.”

[End Quote]

From (March 2012):


“ACC apologises over privacy breach

An ACC sensitive claims client was “horrified” to hear that personal details of 250 clients of the unit had been sent nationwide and to a member of the public.

The details were among more than 9000 ACC claims – some featuring well-known people – that were emailed to a person who should not have received them, in what is being described as one of the worst privacy breaches in New Zealand history.

The sensitive claims unit deals with the cases of rape and sexual abuse victims.

The details revealed included full names, the nature of each claim and dispute, and individual claim numbers.”

[End Quote]

From NZ Newswire (August 2012):


“ACC frustrated by new privacy breach claim

The ACC is asking a person alleging to have been sent a list of information about other claimants to come forward, in a new potential mass privacy breach by the state-owned accident insurer.

“Well, well, well I have just received my IT Sweep with a list of names regarding review dates and reason for review and claim numbers, what shall I do??” a claimant named chroy wrote on ACCforum this week, after seeking copies of all ACC’s files on their claim.

ACC’s privacy officer Miriama Henderson called on chroy to come forward and return the information.

Chroy posted that the matter was being dealt with accordingly and that it was not morally right to tell anyone anything.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville told NZ Newswire that ACC was continuing to investigate the matter and until the person came forward the insurer was unable to confirm if there had been a privacy breach.

If there was a privacy breach the Privacy Commission and affected claimants would be informed.

“The person hasn’t come to us and that is frustrating,” she said.

The ACC’s chairman, chief executive and three board members have resigned as part of the fallout from a mass privacy breach earlier revealed by claimant Bronwyn Pullar.

The Auditor-General’s office and private auditors are investigating how information about 6700 claimants was sent to Ms Pullar.”

[End Quote]

And from Fairfax NZ News (June 2012) – the state of play:


“Parliament is in urgent debate following the resignation of ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart today.

Labour MP Andrew Little requested the debate and it was agreed by deputy Speaker Eric Roy.

Little said the current condition of ACC was “disgraceful” and people were leaving like rats from a sinking ship.

He called for ACC Minister Judith Collins step down, saying the corporation needs a minister who could be focused.

“We need a minister that looks after ACC,” he said.

Stewart quit this morning following a boardroom cleanout which has claimed chair John Judge, deputy John McCliskie and another director Rob Campbell.”

[End Quote]



1 and 2) Ursula Cheer (1995) Social policy implications arising from
legal aspects of New Zealand’s latest accident compensation scheme

3) John Miller. Compensating Crime Victims within New Zealand’s No Fault Accident Compensation Scheme: The Advantages and Disadvantages

31 comments on “New Zealands ACC Sensitive Claims Unit

  1. Lee-Ann Jerry on said:

    please I am a victim of abuse and I am scared of what they might do to me, What can I do. My mental disabilitie makes it very hard for me too do anything. I cant think long times my medication keeps me safe, I know everything about me but I am not able to go anywhere. The last people i had dealing with where wonderfull the where caregivers at Waiperira trust. they accepted my mental care there but i had to leave, And we move to waikato where I havent seen anyone but I still take my medication. I really dont want to do this alone who can help me.

    • admin_grant on said:

      Hi, I’m not an expert on this and find it unsettling that you had to reach out here. Firstly, I will touch base with some people and see what’s available in NZ and get back to you as quickly as I can. Have you spoken to your GP etc? I know the ACC Sensitive claims unit can help with counseling (as limited as that may be). And do you have someone there you can talk to about this?

    • Theresa Mischeski on said:

      Please email me or Facebook me as ive been abused and only one who’s been through it can help you, Stay strong it’s hard I know:( please contact me Arohanui

  2. VIctor on said:

    Well written, brilliant piece. IIt comes as absolutely no surprise that accscu are nothing more than institutionalized abusers and I genuinely feel for all the claimants that they have running through their hoops. There are sites out there and people and even white-hats within acc that work towards uncovering the corruption of this vasy nasty and you will find a site that can help assist sensitive claims individuals. Stay strong.

    • admin_grant on said:

      Thanks Victor. Go well.

    • Phillipa Cunningham on said:

      First thing you need to do is go to your GP and ask him to lodge a sensitive claim with ACC. ACC will get in contact with you and let you know if your claim has been accepted. If it is, you will then go to weekly counseling sessions, then you will go to a ACC assessor.

      • i am thinking about making a sensitive claim to see if i can get any compensation for mental health , council ling or anything i can get, ive never trusted people and just coming to terms with how my life has been effected and i thought i couldn’t do anything to fix the trauma of sexual abuse and psychological abuse.i felt like a victim in my lowest and even happiest points in life. can someone explain to me the whole process of what i need to do to be eligible to apply for financial help from acc. any advise would be much appreciated. thanks

  3. Christine on said:

    I have been thought the ACC claims process and it took 2 years to finally come to a agreement regarding my mental heath. My problem is that although I have a mental health impairment im to scared to take my meds as Im not able to work while on them. How do you get better with out meds? Does any one no any other therapy I could use?

    • admin_grant on said:

      Meds may be important. I take Xanax for CPTSD. I don’t like the fact I need to take a toxic substance that dulls things but I cannot function without it and become reactive and violent in extreme situations. I’ve reduced my Xanax intake greatly through exercise (weights, surfing and boxing) and also find medical use of marijuana helps greatly for CPTSD. However, I am not recommending this (mj use) because it is illegal and you may become criminalized as a result. Also the benefits of medical marijuana are patient specific and very much condition specific. I speak to a shrink weekly and that has helped a bit also but it has taken me years to get access to counseling and this only came about due to the Australian Royal Commission (I left NZ in 1989). Try to find a good counselor – they do help.

  4. Grant I read your earlier comment, i have a claim excepted, 2000. I had a review recently and acc were back paying me till 2002 agreed with acc as I wanted cover from 2000. my advocate was present and fairway. I went straight from review to doctors, signed cert back several years, then I receive a letter saying they want me to provide more medical information and changed their minds on payment. I have been assesed for 5 yearly comp and I receive that, but weekly comp I have never received, I now after years of asking have my summary of earnings and show up and down decline in earning at times before and after assessments. at mediation my case manager admitted they are wanting more info, more assessments and second opinions because of the amount. please if you can help can you contact me, they have set up a person of their choice to asses me yet again on the 23rd, I found out about this person, no qualifications in sensitive claims, rang case manager and said stick it, im getting very angry now.

    • admin_grant on said:

      I’m not up to speed on the sensitive claims at all I’m afraid. I never lodged one, was never informed of my right to lodge one while in NZ, and because I live outside of NZ with no intention of returning I am not eligible to claim unless I return to NZ at my own expense. From all that I have gathered the ‘insensitive’ claims are brutal and humiliating and they throw in hatchet doctors along the way. I understand there are organizations who can advise you so perhaps the best thing to do is contact someone who can help. Perhaps post on the ACC forum what you are going through and ask forum members for advice.

    • Hi there, im About to begin the process of applying for compensation. A claim was made regarding the same mental injury in 2015. The abuse happened before 2002. My initial assessment was a 33% impairment. Does any one know what i may be entitled to?

  5. Trixie Harris on said:

    The new ISSC is a ‘con’. scu look sweet in the media – 16 counseling sessions and then they simply decline the claim saying ‘out of time’, leaving the claimant with nothing!
    This is after scu have had 9 months to investigate a claim?!?!?!
    Two recent court cases R v ACC and K v ACC show what this unit is like to claimants. ‘Chilling’ stated Judge Henare. They use Doctor Shopping and keep sending claimants to psychiatric assessments until they get a report in their favour.
    Their BAP’s are committing crimes against their code of ethics and do not provide reliable opinions.
    This specialised unit in fact intensely dislike their clients and place every obstruction and humiliation in their way!
    Either an acc ombudsman or close this toxic unit down and sent claimants back to local branches would be far more humane!

  6. C.D W.P on said:

    Hi can anyone please help. I am wanting to take my lump sum decision to review as I feel I am entitled to I/A. I understand that my age I’ve stated as the Last sexual event happening to me takes me past 2002. However, the psychiatric reports refers to csa. My first report states all events have affected me, but it also states the one particular event significantly affects me. My assessment phyc report refers to csa. Also the phsychiatrist (2nd report) asked which effects me most and I answered but its not written in report.

    I have researched legislations and forum etc, but I’m wondering if anyone who has experienced anything like I am and could give me an answer as to whether I should go through with this review. I’ll appreciate any advise. Thanks in advance

  7. admin_grant on said:

    This is a story I hear far too often and my heart goes out to your daughter. The ACC is a disgrace and a flawed demeaning dehumanising system where hatchet doctors are the norm. Insensitive claims is a far more appropriate name.

  8. April on said:

    this an email i sent to the (in)sensitive claims reply…wot are you meant to do??continue falling into the deep hole is my guess,,,

    i have tried a couple of times over many years to try and approach someone to get help and have counselling for historic abuse but it has not gone well for me. I first tried near on 20 years ago but the councilor i saw knew my abuser so i never went back to see her.
    I went to see a councilor recently because i had an event occur which has brought back so much old undealt with issues, i needed to talk thru things with someone but they are not an ACC councilor and i wondered if i needed to see an ACC councilor to be able to look at getting financial help.
    I have never made any claim before, i feel like i have had no help to deal with anything, my life has been very hard at times, with many bad decsions that i have made, but at this stage in my life its like i want to have the chance to get some peace.
    i want to see if theres any way i may have my case looked at to see if there could be any financial help for me in the way of a sensitive claim. I emailed 2 groups on your “find support”list but one replied with an out of office message and never got back to me other than that reply and the other office replied with they only have clinicians available for people under 24 years old.. i am 55. I realise that there may be no help available for me but i really wanted to try and get thru this even at this time in my life i have difficulty and didnt know how else to see if i could get any financial help thru making a sensitive claim

  9. Yvonne Walsh on said:

    Your daughters assault and abuse history is very similar to my daughter. It took 6years from first application to ACC before it was recently accepted. One thing our family has noticed in the last couple of months is that what we have done with long-term goals to help our girl through this has been better than any other help she got,as everything else was temporary, what we have done and are continuing to do tho been a long long journey is just starting to work. The abuse stunts their emotional growth they lik rose buds that have been forced open but they are still beautiful rose buds. Don’t stop letting her know she is valuable. I so feel your pain. It is infuriating that this ACC system just revictimiizes our loved ones, but what we do has a far great impact on them

  10. Timothy Chappell on said:

    I am extremely disappointed with ACCs attitude and performance with my wifes case of so called sexual abuse and then report it a year later after it happened I feel that they have not taken it on board that if she is well enough to go away and live on a farm and look after a household and also two younger children she is well enough to be at home and look after her husband who had major surgery back in m,ay of this year and then she departed to Hamilton to undertake this babysitting role leaving her parner to run a house as well and try and get better and in the process of not being very well himse;lf resulting in several hospital admissions .

  11. jenny on said:

    My sensitive claim file was violated for information in regards car accident. They said my sexual abuse trauma stops me working not the injury. Took my complaint to human rights and won. They stalked me for 3yrs to send me to everybody they could.
    Now in 2017 they have started again. Twice i have been admitted psychiatric hospital for stress….. .really

  12. jenny on said:

    Acc violated my sexual abuse files to say i cant work because of trauma and not the car that came onto footpath that hit me and 2x bungled back surgeries. Took my case to human rights and won. 2x ended up in psych hosp because of stress…….really

  13. Riley on said:

    Hi I was s.a! My ex partner was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for rape x 2 + kidnapping I’m currently receiving an independent allowance quarterly payments, am I entitled to more ?! Lump sum as this happened in 2001?! Any suggestions?

    • admin_grant on said:

      The problem in NZ is you are dealing with the ACC which is for lack of a better term a disgrace (geared to screw New Zealanders). You’d really need to approach a community legal advice body and ask them this question.

  14. Can I claim for loss of income from 2002 I was part time working the night of my assault in which it never happened at work but affected me working for at least a month I did not know about acc and did not claim for Loi back then I did however recurve a sensitive claim an got granted independence allowance do I have a case?

  15. We’ve been having a terrible time trying to counselling for my daughter who has PTSD/severe depression due to severe sexual abuse, initially she had a good acc counsellor but has since moved to a new location. The trouble is the co-ordinator Michelle Ihaka and the manager Raewyn Woodhouse getting very impatient and rude with her for not responding to attempts to make appointments and despite my begging them to give her another chance as she’s suicidal and going through the crises team, they still punctuate their communication with my daugher who is sincerely trying to get help with comments about how hard she is to get hold of, and one text they sent to her end with a blunt – if you don’t want counselling then let us know. This is AFTER my daughter had again rung THEM to make an appointment. They have now put her right off, and how they are behaving is dangerous. I am trying around different counsellors in the area now. Who do I complain to about these so called caring professionals who don’t seem to have the slightest basic understanding or compassion for how someone with depression might interact?

    • admin_grant on said:

      Unfortunately incompetent so-called professionals are all too common. I have found myself that if you want a decent psyche you need to go private which costs a bomb. My own experience was that I wasn’t even diagnosed with PTSD until I was able to see a private psyche. I was 33 by then which perhaps gives you some insight into just how useless some so-called professionals are. These days I stay completely away from public services period. In fact recently I was able to access my old mental health (Gov) notes and some twat had scribbled “alleges he was abused in care”. That pretty much says it all. “Alleges” = we don’t believe him (USELESS INCOMPETENT PRICKS!!) Public sector is bad news and I feel sorry for anyone who is forced to rely on Gov services (they are beyond a joke). Sorry I can’t be of more help. All I can say is try to go private whatever the cost. If you don’t like some clown ditch them. Shop around until you can find someone who is good and someone who you can trust.

    • I’m sorry you are going through this. The survivor is being put through more abuse. As much as I need therapy I can get to the door of the therapists office and that’s it. My anxiety takes hold and I run. More recently a few days before I will end up cancelling my appt. Now I’m told the system has changed yet again. Yes you may have been abused, but you have to fight to get therapy. And even then chances are you will get turned down. So why even try in the first place.

  16. Sensitive claims unit are a joke. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, rape at 15 and more recently my abusive ex husband. I recently approached an account psychologist for counselling. I attended one session the questioning just felt like I was being violated all over again. And then to be told more questions in the next session. And after all of that, my claim my not be accepted. Haven’t I been through enough. I already have panic attacks and depression. I avoid people, I don’t feel safe outside my house. Yet I’m supposed to go and open up to someone I don’t trust. About horrific stuff. And then to be told go away. I may need counseling but it’s not going to happen. It’s just another thing I have gotten wrong in my life. Even thinking about it has me in tears. Being in a closed room, not having the confidence to say stop. I did say stop to one therapist, her response oh nothing will hurt you. Gee thanks. Thank goodness I have my animals, the best therapy of all. I don’t trust the human race.

  17. Angela huntley on said:

    How do I get compensation for years of abuse I’m 37 and it happened when I was 15 I have mental health

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