The $800,000 man

October 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An unnamed ACC employee – understood to be investment manager Nicholas Bagnall, who oversees almost $27 billion in taxpayer funds – got over $800,000 in pay last year, likely making him our highest paid public servant.

The breakdown of staff pay in ACC’s annual report yesterday reveals its highest paid received between $810,000 and $820,000 in the last year.

Some may be surprised that a manager may get less than a CEO, but I’ve seen this before with IT Managers getting paid more than their bosses.

The Herald understands the ACC employee is not ACC chief executive Scott Pickering but a member of the state-owned injury insurer’s investment team, as was the corporation’s second highest-paid staffer, on just over $700,000.

Mr Bagnall has led ACC’s investment team for the past 15 years. He would not confirm he was the employee referred to in ACC’s report but said he was “very well paid”.

I don’t have a problem with Mr Bagnall being paid that much, if he is performing well enough to justify it.

The ACC Annual Report shows ACC has financial assets of $27.6 billion and they got a 6.3% return on investment which is $1.6 billion of income. Paying someone $800,000 a year to manage $27.6 billion of assets seems reasonable. A 0.1% improved return of investment of those assets is worth $27 million.


Three ACC levy reductions

August 6th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Judth Collins has announced three reductions in the levies we pay to ACC. They are:

  1. Petrol levy drops 3 cents a litre
  2. Employer levy drops 5 cents per $100 of earnings
  3. Motor Vehicle registration fees drop an average of $136 (including impact of petrol levy drop)

The good news about these drops are that they are sustainable, with their respective accounts being at least 90% fully funded.



Changes to ACC and sexual abuse victims

April 30th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

ACC will pay for every cent of rape victims’ counselling as part of a major overhaul of its sensitive claims system later this year.

The corporation is bracing for a significant increase in the number of sensitive claims in the next six years as the stigma around sexual violence is increasingly broken down in New Zealand.

In response, it was planning an expanded, more flexible service which took into account the sensitivity, length of time, and cost of treating rape-related trauma. These changes were based on the recommendations of a highly critical independent review in 2010. …

ACC strategy manager for sexual violence Emma Powell said the overhaul would give victims more time, funding and choice.

“We are no longer going to be approving 10 counselling sessions here, or 10 there, we are actually saying ‘Here’s 12 months, you and your therapists … build a programme around the person’s needs … and that’s about providing a much more holistic approach’.

“We’re throwing away the calendar and throwing away the clock and just letting people focus on getting better.” …

At present, ACC funded counselling for rape victims but only up to $80 for a one-hour session. Counsellors often charged a “top-up”, or additional fee of up to $90.

Ms Powell said the corporation was concerned that this cost was putting people off a crucial service. Claimants were taking an average of 7.8 sessions despite being entitled to 16 sessions, or more depending on their circumstances.

Under the new service, ACC would cover the full cost of the sessions. The overhaul would also allow victims to shop around for a therapist who they felt comfortable with.

These are very significant changes. The estimated cost to levy payers is an extra $45 million per year.


BusinessNZ misses the point

January 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

Business NZ today broke its silence on the issue, with a press release quoting its chief executive, Phil O’Reilly.

“For the record, Business NZ utterly rejects mistaken allegations made by lobbyist Jordan Williams since repeated by the ACC minister,” O’Reilly said.

“The BusinessNZ family’s involvement has been completely ethical at all times, and I am confident that this is also the case with the involvement of the CTU and Impac Services.”

The CTU has also strongly rejected the criticisms by Collins and Williams.

O’Reilly said it was “unfortunate that important debate on workplace safety has been undermined by intemperate media comment”. …

O’Reilly said claims about the training scheme had been “regrettable and BusinessNZ had so far refrained from commenting on them because it has not been possible to have constructive dialogue in the context of overblown media comment”.

“Key issues are that New Zealand’s health and safety has just been changed and more stringent focus is needed on the goals of improving workplace safety,” O’Reilly said.

“The ACC and the Government are central to this goal, and BusinessNZ and the CTU as the largest representatives of people in the workplace also have a critical role to play.

BusinessNZ does have a role to play. That role should be representing the interests of businesses to ACC. When it sticks its hand out for effective taxpayer (or levy payer) funding, it becomes hopelessly compromised. How can it advocate for (for example) a reduction in levies when those levies help fund it?

Instead we have BusinessNZ defending ACC, themselves and the CTU, rather than sticking up for its members who I am sure the vast majority would like to see ACC more cost effective.

The goals and outcomes of the ACC courses appeared to have been misunderstood, O’Reilly said.

“The training part-funded by ACC is being run according to the brief set by ACC and is achieving the outcomes it was set up for. The objectives include ensuring that health and safety reps are able to reduce and remove workplace hazards, co-develop safety plans for their workplace, promote safety management among their co-workers, and train others to do the same.

“The course objectives are clearly specified and are being successfully delivered according to specifications.”

Contrary to claims by Williams, who is the spokesman for the anti-waste lobby group the Taxpayers’ Union, the training objective was not set in terms of reducing the number of workplace accidents in New Zealand, O’Reilly said.

But that’s the point. They should be.

What BusinessNZ and the CTU both overlook (because of course they get funded from the status quo) is the opportunity cost of the $19 million they have received. No one is saying what they have done is of no value. But think what could have been achieved if that $19 million had been spent on (for example) a campaign to reduce forestry accidents, or a campaign focusing on the five most dangerous industries.

I expect the CTU to not really grasp the reality that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that ACC should prioritise its limited budget to areas where it gets the best value for money. But I would have hoped Business NZ would realise this, especially as it is primarily their own members who fund ACC. This again show how hopelessly conflicted they have become on this issue, by allowing themselves to become part of the system they are meant to be a watchdog over.

The response from Business NZ is one of the reasons so many people have been supportive of the Taxpayers’ Union. Many people have complained to me that it has been some time since there has been a strong voice sticking up for those who fund the Government. Once upon a time Business NZ may have been that strong voice, but now it seems they’re about taking money from the Government, instead of demanding less wasteful spending on behalf of those who fund the Government.

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CTU tries to defend their troughing

January 15th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Taxpayers Union yesterday revealed that ACC has spent $19 million funding Business NZ and the CTU for training which even if it lowered accident rates by 50%, would only return a benefit of 16 cents for every dollar spent.

The CTU has tried to justify their troughing by saying:

“We trained nearly 2000 health and safety representatives last year and the feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. 97 % felt they could perform the role of health and safety rep more confidently than before the course, 96 % said the course showed them how they could improve health and safety in their workplaces and nearly 99 % found that these courses were beneficial and helped with their understanding of the role and the importance of health and safety at work. Feedback has been consistently positive since we began these courses.”

The measure of effectiveness is whether there are fewer accidents at workplaces that receive the training, not on whether participants in a course tick a form saying they enjoyed the course.

The CTU is rightfully focusing on the appallingly high level of deaths in the foresty sector. They would be outraged if the Government’s response was that it doesn’t matter whether or not there are fewer deaths, so long as as employees who do a safety course rate it as beneficial.

CTU President Helen Kelly has also had a rant at The Daily Blog. She thinks there is something sinister that the TU got a response to our OIA 19 days after it was filed. Is she unaware that 20 days is the legal limit? She also says:

The training deliverables for the contract do not focus on the outcomes of the training only the numbers trained but the course is approved and overseen by a tripartite group.

That is the problem. It should be about outcomes. The CTU demand better outcomes in the forestry sector (and I agree with them) but don’t think their own levy payer funded training courses should be linked to improving outcomes. This is the problem when you stick your hand out for government funding – you become conflicted and even hypocritical.


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January 14th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Accident Compensation Corporation will end a health and safety training programme it said today after activist group the Taxpayers Union highlighted almost $20 million in spending on the training which generated few benefits.

The union today released documents detailing the corporation’s spending since 2003 on the programme to train employees in health and safety practices.

Beginning in 2003, the money was paid to the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), employers’ group Business NZ and private training provider Impac Services.

However the documents showed the $19 million spent “did little, if anything, to reduce workplace accidents”, Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams said.

The release and detailed data from the Taxpayers Union is here. What is staggering is that even if you make the incredibly generous assumption that the training resulted in a 50% reduction in workplace accidents in sites visited (and of course it did not), then it is still wasting 84 cents in the dollar.  The benefits are just 16 cents for every dollar spent, even under the most generous assumptions.

It should have stopped years ago.

ACC analysis found that over the time the programme was working there was a reduction in claims even in workplaces where no safety or workplace activity has occurred.

The analysis suggested that even if the training was responsible for half of the reduction in accidents, at best only 16c in every $1 spent did any good, or in other words, 84c in every $1 was being wasted.

The documents reveal that Business NZ and the CTU worked together with ACC to create the venture and doubts about the value of the scheme had existed since at least 2008.

“Business NZ and the CTU have created a nice little earner for themselves”, said Mr Williams.

“It’s a disgraceful example of big corporate and union welfare chewing through taxpayer cash.”

There are many many organisations out there receiving taxpayer funding, and not producing enough benefits to justify it.  It’s good that ACC has decided to put a stop to this one, saving employees and employers money.

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Labour on ACC levy reductions

December 4th, 2013 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

Labour believes ACC levy cuts next year are timed to be an election bribe.

The Government has announced earners’ levies will be cut 15 per cent and the employers’ levy by 17 per cent.

Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway says the cuts are overdue – and the timing is cynical. …

“There’s no doubt that the timing of this is designed to be an election bribe.”

Okay so in this paragraph Labour effectively says the reductions should not occur in an election year.

It’s disappointment for motorists, who’ll have to wait another year before paying lower ACC levies.

ACC had recommended cutting the motor vehicle levy by at least five per cent.

But the Government’s putting it off until 2015.

Mr Lees-Galloway says that means the least risky road users will continue subsidising the most risky.

While in this paragraph they attacking the Government for delaying motor levy cuts until 2015.

They’re not happy campers!

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He wants $4 million of our money

November 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Nearing a month of living on the streets without food, Mike Dixon-McIver says only two things will end his protest – death, or a fair deal from ACC.

The 75-year-old ACC advocate has long assisted people with their claims, but has been locked in a six-year battle with the corporation after it tried to prosecute him for fraud.

The case was thrown out, and earlier this year a judge awarded Mr Dixon-McIver full legal costs of $13,000, but the corporation refused to go to mediation to discuss damages.

That led to Dixon-McIver camping outside ACC’s head office in Aitken St, demanding more than $4 million for damages and losses.

ACC agreed to talks, but the protest resumed last month after Dixon-McIver declined a $90,000 compensation offer that he considered an insult.

He wants those of us who fund ACC to hand over $4 million to him. That’s greed.

Dixon-McIver said he believed he would win if he took his case to court again, but did not have the will to spend another three years tied up in legal wranglings.

It had been difficult not eating for almost a month, but he was adamant he would not alter his course of action, even if that meant dying.

Emotional blackmail is so much easier than actually proving your case in court.

I think $90,000 is pretty generous offer. Demanding at least $4 million is sheer greed.

As I found out last time when I blogged on Mr Dixon-McIver:

Incidentally Mr Dixon-McIver seems to have had some compensation issues of his own, after the Employment Court ordered him to pay three months salary and $6,750 for distress, humiliation and injury to feelings to a former employee who was constructively dismissed after he threatened to assault her, following his son assaulting her.

Maybe the former employee should have gone for $4 million also.

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Labour against lower ACC levies for safer cars

November 26th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Ruthrford at Stuff reports:

ACC is proposing to cut levies by more than $500 million next year, in what is effectively a tax cut, but workers on average wages with older cars will reap only a few dollars a week.

It’s not a tax cut, even though it is paid through the IRD. The purpose of ACC is to have levies high enough to meet the costs of accidents. It should and must lower levies if it can do so.

All car owners will be better off through lower licensing fees – frequently referred to as registration fees – although the savings are dependent upon safety.

Under a new system, cars will be split into four risk-based categories, with licensing costs dropping from less than $10 a year for the least safe group 1 cars, to more than $92 for the most safe, group 4 cars.

Excellent. Levies should reflect risk. This is the same principle as with employer levies where a manufacturing plant will pay higher levies than a supermarket.

Despite strong lobbying from riders that they were subsidising other road users, there will be no cut in licensing levies for motorcycles, with Rebstock saying in reality car owners already heavily subsidised the cost of supporting injured motorcycle riders.

“If we charged motorcycle owners the full cost of motorcyclists’ injuries, it would make owning and riding a bike unaffordable.”

We should charge the full cost. However as you can only drive one motorcycle at a time, the levy should be per driver not per motorcycle.

Labour’s ACC spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said people on low incomes would be penalised by the proposed regime.

“The way to improve the safety of our vehicle fleet is to make sure people have enough money to buy safe cars, not by penalising them for being poor.”

So Labour is against lower levies for safer cars. How depressing.

Workers will also take home a fraction more in wages, with the earners’ levy proposed to drop by 22 cents for every $100 earned, or $22 for every $10,000 earned.

Those earning $50,000 will get another $110 a year, while those earning $150,000 will get $330 a year.

I’m not sure this is correct. The earners’ levy is $1.70 per $100 of income but is capped at $116,089. So a 22c reduction per $100 will be a maximum reduction of $255.

UPDATE: Also worth noting that ACC reviews the levies every year, as required to by law.  It’s coincidental that it is election year next year. This is an annual event.

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ACC almost fully funded now

October 2nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Judith Collins announced:

Two ACC accounts – the Earners Account and the Work Account – are now fully funded and the Motor Vehicle Account is expected to be fully funded soon.

Ms Collins says ACC’s progress to date has allowed this Government to signal $300 million worth of levy cuts for taxpayers for 2014/15.

This is really pleasing. Once all ACC accounts are fully funded, we won’t have a huge unfunded liability dependent on future levypayers.

What is good about getting to a fully funded state earlier rather than later, is that there may be room for significant levy drops for 2015/16 as the levies will no longer be needed to move ACC from pay as you go to fully funded. They’ll still need to meet the total costs of accidents that occur each year – but as I said I suspect further levy drops will be possible – which is good for employees, employers and motorists.


Million dollar union slush fund may be cut

October 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Rob Hosking at NBR reports:

A $1 million government funding to the Council of Trade Unions to run accident prevention workshops is under review.

ACC Minister Judith Collins recently announced a near doubling of the amount of funding the Accident Compensation Corporation makes for accident prevention work, from $22.4 million to $40 million.

However that is accompanied by a review of existing programmes and in an interview with NBR ONLINE Ms Collins said she had told officials there are no sacred cows with regards to existing programmes.

“And I’ve told them if they need to kill sacred cows that need slaughtering, I’ll back them.” 

And in the next breath she queries the value of programmes run by the Council of Trade Unions.

The CTU gets “about a million dollars a year” to run such programmes and she says it is not obvious this is the best use of that money.

“What I want to see is what is working.”

Comparatively few accidents happen in the workplace, she says – about 20%, although these injuries tend to be more serious.

This is beyond excellent. Not only is Judith Collins doubling the amount of funding for accident prevention, she is going to ensure it is actually spent on accident prevention rather than union membership recruitment.

I understand the $1 million a year funding to the CTU was established by a former Labour Deputy Leader when he was ACC Chair. Labour constantly tries to find ways for taxpayers to fund unions so that the unions in turn can fund the Labour Party!

The CTU has responded by hysterically demanding Judith Collins resigns, because she is demanding proof that they actually do anything worthwhile with their $1 million a year.

I understand Business NZ gets some funding also. I’d scrap the funding to both bodies, and use it to run safety campaigns at the coal face.

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A win against ACC

September 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A lawyer has won a three-year battle against ACC, which claimed pain she suffered after a car crash was from degeneration and not a neck injury.

When Madeleine Flannagan appealed against the decision to cut her entitlements – and before the case could be heard in the District Court – ACC accepted her injury was caused by the accident and offered the Orewa woman a settlement.

It’s a pity it took a court case to achieve this.

Madeleine blogs about the case in more detail here.

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Supernatural ACC claims

July 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I recently OIA’d ACC and asked them how many compensation claims had been paid out due to zombies, vampires or ghosts in the last five years.

I’ve had a response and there were 25 claims costing a total of $24,500 excl GST.

So not a great impact from our undead brethren. In fact sadly it seems all the claims were due to humans, not the undead.

ACC provided details of some of the claims (not identifying the clients of course), which are quite amusing. They include:

  • Being chased by a zombie at Spookers; turned and hit pole, and flipped over fence
  • Playing “zombies” at school; crashed into pole 
  • Playing ghosts tripped and fell 
  • Accidentally put arm through window telling ghost story
  • Crawling under bed to find ghost – hit head on bed
  • Fell off stage during ghost tour 
  • Playing ghost tag, bumped into dishwasher
  • Playing ghosts with sister; had a sheet over head, and banged jaw
  • Walking like a zombie in hallway; slipped on carpet and twisted ankle sideways
  • Banged forehead on door frame when pretending to be a ghost (wearing a blanket)
  • Theme park ghost ride – was thrown from side to side causing a horrible pain in neck
  • Removing face paint/makeup after zombie party; pain in eye while removing – worsened following morning

I like the crawling under the bed to find a ghost. I suspect they had a child unable to sleep due to the ghost there. Not sure hwo you play ghost tag, but sounds fun. Also unsure why you would walk like a zombie in a hallway, unless you were one.

Dressing up as a ghost is likely to lead you to walk into doorframes, unless you put eye hole in!


ACC payouts for death

June 9th, 2013 at 8:40 am by David Farrar

Rob Kidd at Stuff reports:

A woman conned $125,000 out of ACC by claiming she was the distraught widow of a man crushed to death in a building accident.

In reality Auckland woman Brunetta Hemi had dumped the man, walking out on their de-facto relationship five years before his death.

But when she heard that Waepeke Ruihana Tupaea had died, she contacted the undertaker and told him she was still Tupaea’s partner, then filled out a claim with ACC.

It saw her paid an immediate survivor’s grant of $5653 and she qualified for weekly compensation for the next five years. She drew the payments for nine months, then opted for a lump sum payout that saw ACC deposit $125,341 into her bank account.

Tupaea, 61, died in June 2009 when he was part of a crew moving a house on to a marae in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa.

A bulldozer hit the house, causing it to fall, killing Tupaea and 24-year-old workmate Marsh Terahi Wiri Peihopa.

The fraud is one issue. What interests me more, is the policy rationale for a relatively large payout for death by accident.

I’m all for ACC which covers income while people recover from an accident.

But should ACC be a form of life insurance?

Certainly I say it is appropriate to have some payout to family as it takes some time to adjust to the loss of an income earner. But five years of payments?

If your partner dies of a heart attack, you get nothing beyond any insurance policy they had, and general welfare insurance.

If they die of an accident, you get five years of survivor’s grants.

I’m really not sure how you rationalise the difference.


Wanting $4.7 million from ACC

May 23rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Shane Cowlishaw at Dom Post reports:

A man who helped dozens of people with their ACC claims says the corporation has driven him into bankruptcy and depression.

After more than 20 years of acting as an ACC advocate, Mike Dixon-McIver has spent the past six years locked in a battle with the corporation after it tried to prosecute him for fraud.

That case was thrown out and a judge awarded Mr Dixon-McIver, of Upper Hutt, full legal costs. But the corporation has refused to go to mediation to discuss damages.

This has infuriated Mr Dixon-McIver, who at noon today will host a barbecue protest outside the corporation’s head office in Wellington to publicise his plight.

He plans to camp outside the office until ACC agrees to meet him.

“Nobody has said ‘we’re sorry’, nobody, and that’s the first thing I ever wanted from them.”

Adding to his frustration, he and wife Jolene will be forced out of their home on Friday after an option to buy the property expires.

He sent ACC a starting figure for damages and losses of $4.69 million, including sums for loss of earnings and impact on his mental health.

You want $4.7 million from ACC levypayers because of a failed prosecution against you that didn’t even go to trial?

Good luck with that one.

Incidentally Mr Dixon-McIver seems to have had some compensation issues of his own, after the Employment Court ordered him to pay three months salary and $6,750 for distress, humiliation and injury to feelings to a former employee who was constructively dismissed after he threatened to assault her, following his son assaulting her.


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17 years on ACC

May 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Hutt Valley man who was filmed walking around a supermarket while claiming he needed a wheelchair has lost a battle to get his ACC payments back.

Wiremu Brightwell had appealed against a 2010 ACC decision, stripping him of his disability allowance.

But in Wellington District Court Judge David Ongley found he “probably wilfully exaggerated his symptoms and presented a severe disability that was not caused by his covered personal injury”.

Up until 2010, Mr Brightwell had cover for an injury from 1993, when he was hit on the side of his head by an exploding tyre and rim.

ACC medical adviser Martin Robb examined him in 2010, and told ACC that, in his opinion, Mr Brightwell was “malingering”.

“He did not appear to be in pain, but on entering the surgery in his wheelchair appeared to be very moribund, unable to operate the controls of his wheelchair,” Dr Robb said.

“Despite his apparently moribund state, he was able to answer questions quickly and appropriately with a clear but quiet voice.”

Although Mr Brightwell claimed to be largely bedridden, he had “good musculature with no sign of muscle wasting”.

Even if Mr Brightwell does need to be in a wheel chair (which is doubtful), there are jobs you can do from a wheelchair. Many wheelchair bound people can and do work.


Should ACC be extended to illness?

March 19th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicole Pryor at Stuff reports:

Sick people are more likely to be out of work and have money problems than injured people, says new research.

A study from the University of Otago, which has been published in Social Science & Medicine, compared over 100 stroke victims under 65-years-old with 429 people who had a similarly debilitating injury.

Both groups were followed for one year to compare their standard of living under the ACC system and means-tested benefits.

Under the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), injured people could get up to 80% of their weekly wages while recovering, as well as treatment and rehabilitation support.

Sick people could get treatment costs, but no compensation for lost wages beyond limited means-tested benefits.

There is a huge variation between those who have accidents and those who are sick. This even extends to situations that if you are born disabled (say with one leg) you get far less support than if you lose a leg in a car crash.

McAllister said at the very least there needs to be better income support for people with illnesses.

“For years people have been saying how unfair this is, the two quite different systems, and that just because someone has the misfortune of having an illness, rather than an injury, they have greater financial consequences.”

She said another option could be to extend ACC to cover illnesses.

While the disparity is a problem, the proposed solution could be more of a problem.

The first is that ACC premiums would increase massively. Every employer and employee would be paying more into ACC.

The second is that the whole basis for ACC was for accidents, and the no faults system was in return for removing the possibility of expensive lawsuits to determine compensation. That rationale does not apply for sickness. You can of curse get income protection insurance to cover the possibility of lost income due to illness.

Is it better to have one government run income protection scheme for illness that is compulsory or competing ones that people can choose to be in?

Finally look at the growth in even the sickness benefit by those who prefer not to work (of course not all or even most, but a significant minority). Think of the incentives if the sickness benefit is effectively set at 80% of your previous earnings? Especially consider that many people are on the sickness benefit due to alcohol or drug addiction. Do we really want to pay people 80% of their previous wages to remain an alcoholic or drug addict?

[UPDATE: According to MSD 7% of sickness beneficiaries are there for substance abuse, so not as many as I thought. Still a reasonable number. Also around 40% are due to psychological or psychiatric conditions which may have a substance aspect to them as the data records primary reasons only – not all reasons.]

So yes there is a disparity and a problem. But the solution is not extending ACC to illness. There could be merit in taking a more integrated approach to accidents and illness but it has to be an affordable one that doesn’t provide bad incentives.


The right decision

March 13th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Shane Cowlishaw at Stuff reports:

An embalmer who was forced to counsel the grieving father of a suicide victim has been denied ACC cover because it was not the only harrowing incident of her career.

The woman, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2009.

Her routine job involved collecting the bodies of people who died naturally, but occasionally she would be called to police scenes such as murders and suicides.

In 2007 she attended a scene north of Auckland where a young man had hanged himself.

The police and victim support were unable to get his father to release the body, so she sat and talked with him, eventually persuading him to help in getting his son on to a stretcher.

But a police officer then threw the rope on top of the body, causing further distress to the father.

The woman continued to work as an embalmer until 2009, when she resigned and lodged a claim for mental injury. She was shocked when ACC declined it.

Under section 21B of the ACC Act, a claimant can seek cover for a work-related mental injury that is not linked to a physical injury.

However, it must be related to a single traumatic event, and ACC argued the woman’s condition was the cumulative effect of a number of sad or distressing events she had had to attend.

I’m glad to see this decision, because what makes ACC less sustainable is the way it has inevitably expanded from its core role, which was to provide income to people who injured themselves while working – while they recovered.

It was never meant to be  general counselling service for the entire country.

I’m not trying to be unsympathetic, but if you choose to be an embalmer (I could never ever be one) then it is highly likely you will see a lot of dead bodies including homicide and suicide victims. And yes it will be traumatic – but it is not an accident.


Mallard and Little fold

November 14th, 2012 at 5:14 pm by David Farrar

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports;

ACC Minister Judith Collins’ defamation action against Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little has been settled following a hearing in the High Court at Auckland today. …

In a statement today following their meeting, the three parliamentarians said they agreed “the leak of the email Ms Boag sent to the minister and forwarded on her instructions as the responsible minister to the chairman and chief executive of ACC raised an issue of serious public concern, and that Messrs Mallard and Little were entitled to question who was responsible for that leak”.

“The parties continue to differ over whether the comments made by Messrs Mallard and Little respectively on Radio NZ implied the minister falsely assured the House that neither she nor her office was responsible for the leak.

“Messrs Mallard and Little have confirmed to Ms Collins that was not their intention and wish to make that clear publicly that in the event such meaning was taken they regret it.”

In the statement, the three politicians said they would make no further comment.

If Mallard and Little had said that a few months ago they could have saved themselves a lot of money.

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“Not that sort of person”

November 10th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mr Fieldsend contacted the Herald to tell his side of the story after ACC used his comment about shooting as an example in a story published on Monday about the rise in threats received by the organisation.

Mr Fieldsend said he told a call centre worker the case manager was “lucky I didn’t have a gun because I would have shot her” when he called to complain about her upsetting behaviour an hour after their first review hearing in August last year.

“I don’t have a gun on me, I’m not that sort of person, I don’t have a criminal record or anything,” he said.

He doesn’t sound contrite at all. he claims he is not the sort of person who would actually shoot someone – he is just the sort of person who would tell someone’s colleague he would have shot them if he had a gun.

How would the ACC staffer know about whether he has a  criminal record?


Little advocates huge increase in ACC costs

November 6th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small reports:

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little is urging his party to remove an “injustice” in the no-fault scheme by extending it to cover incapacity caused by illness or disease as well as accident.

First of all Andrew is correct that there is a disparity at the moment. If you are born disabled with only one leg, you get nothing from ACC. If you lose a leg in an accident you may get payments for life.

But his solution is massively expensive. It would lead to dramatic increases in ACC levies. It means that if (for example) someone was grossly obese and couldn’t work anymore due to their diabetes – they would get ACC payments based on their former salary for life. This would be far more costly than the Invalids Benefit.

Likewise as drug addiction is an illness, drug addicts would get ACC compensation rather than a benefit.

There is merit in looking at combining together the ACC and Welfare systems to remove the “injustice” but doing it by merely extending ACC to everyone with a temporary or permanent incapacity is likely to prove hugely expensive. It would mean a drop in take home pay for every employee and an increase in employer premiums.

He is also calling for it to dump the fully-funded model, which sets levies to cover the future cost of current injuries.

I’m against this also. Apart from the accounting argument, the benefit of having premiums reflect the full cost of current injuries is that it acts as a fiscal deterrent to widening coverage (as Labour did multiple times when last in Govt) because the premiums increase more under full funding (to reflect the full cost). It is all too easy under pay as you go to keep adding things into the scheme because the immediate impact on ACC finances is low. But the long-term impact can be quite massive. Basically full funding means that the Government is less likely to keep adding on extra costs to employees, employers, taxpayers and motorists who fund the scheme.

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Wanting more money from ACC for privacy breach

September 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

The SST reports:

Sex abuse survivors are planning to sue ACC to force a significantly boosted payout for breaching their privacy in the ongoing Bronwyn Pullar whistleblower saga.

ACC sent apology letters in June to sensitive-claims clients and offered to pay them $250 if they agreed to stay silent, after one of New Zealand’s biggest privacy breaches in August last year.

The “insulting” offer came after ACC mistakenly released the names and details of 6500 claimants, including 250 sensitive-claims clients who are victims of sexual abuse and violent crimes, to claimant Pullar.

Wellington lawyer John Miller, a specialist in taking on ACC, said more than 100 claimants affected by the massive Pullar breach had approached him to take the case. He said those wanting to pursue ACC were sensitive claimants who generally had long simmering feelings of being poorly treated by the ACC system.

Although a claimant with a normal injury could shrug off the privacy breach, for sensitive claimants “this is the last straw”.

“It’s a corrosive environment they are in with ACC, frankly. The people I have spoken to, they are insulted by $250, it is a derisory amount for the torment they have gone through.”

Worse was ACC’s requirement that claimants sign a confidentially agreement if they took the payment. “They feel they are being told ‘now go away and shut up and sign a document to say you are going to shut up forever more’.”

He said that although technically class action claims were not possible in New Zealand, the process worked with one claim taken and if it won it set a precedent. ACC would be asked to settle with everyone, or face losing case after case with legal costs compounding the settlement payouts.

He said the process had worked before and usually ACC saw sense.

Miller would not be drawn on what level of compensation would satisfy claimants, but said past privacy breaches had won payouts of anything from $2000 to $40,000. It depended on the severity of the consequences.

In 2003 he said ACC paid $8000 for sending a man’s earnings details to his wife, resulting in divorce because he had kept his income secret from her.

A large amount is appropriate when there has been significant harm from the privacy breach.

But bearing in mind it is employees, employers and motorists who will effectively pay for any compensation, let us look at the harm done in this breach.

One person in Auckland, a stranger to all these people, was sent a spreadsheet with some details about them. The report into the breach details what this info was:

  • Client Name
  • Claim Number
  • Branch handling claim
  • Review number

No information beyond that was disclosed. So yes it did breach privacy by revealing they were a client of ACC, they they were having their claim reviewed, and which branch was handling their claim – which can reveal it was a sensitive claim.

This is not inconsequential, but neither it is in any way detailed. And this was a breach not on a website, but to one person.

I’m not convinced the offers of $250 is inappropriate.


ACC is now welfare

September 18th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Marty Sharpe at Stuff reports:

The number of families of suicide victims granted support from ACC has declined since changes to legislation in 2010.

A woman whose daughter took her own life after suffering an abusive relationship said the changes meant surviving family were not considered victims.

The woman said her 21-year-old daughter took her life in Christchurch in November 2010. She left behind a young son.

The woman, now a sickness beneficiary and living in Wellington, had been struggling to pay the $7000 for her daughter’s funeral.

She sought help from ACC but was told the corporation no longer provided cover for families of suicide victims, unless the suicide was due to a mental injury caused by physical injury, sexual abuse or a work-related mental injury.

“I’ve got it [the funeral bill] down to about $4500 . . . It’s just been devastating. It really has. I don’t think people know what it’s like. Anyone in that situation needs all the help they can get,” the woman said.

Losing a loved one to suicide must be one of the most devastating things that can happen.

However it is not the role of ACC to fund funeral costs for those who kill themselves. The original intent of ACC is that if people get injured in an accident, they kept receiving their work income, and had medical costs covered.

If low income families are unable to pay for the funeral costs of a family member who has died, then the appropriate support should be via WINZ – and as I understand it there are such grants.

But we must change ACC from being a universal funder of everything bad that happens to someone, to what it was set up for.



You want fair, but not a soft touch

September 16th, 2012 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Work and Income is using “chequebook doctors” to move sick claimants off welfare, advocates say.

State insurer ACC has been criticised for paying medical assessors to examine long-term clients, and lawyers and claimant groups have questioned the assessors’ independence, calling them “hatchet men and women”.

Now those charges are being levelled at Winz. Critics say it is operating a similar system by employing almost 300 “designated doctors” to assess beneficiaries.

Advocates will of course have a negative view of anyone who disagrees with their clients getting the benefit they want. They often have a philosophical view that anyone should be able to get welfare, with no work testing.

A key difference with ACC is there is legitimate criticism that some of the ACC designated doctors do nothing but ACC cases, and are dependent on ACC for most of their income. WINZ has 300 designated doctors who reviews 3,000 cases a year so the average doctor does one case a month.


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ACC doctors

September 8th, 2012 at 9:46 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin reports at Stuff:

ACC is spending millions of dollars flying doctors around New Zealand to assess long-term clients who have already been assessed by other doctors.

The policy has been slammed by John Miller – one of the country’s top lawyers specialising in ACC legislation – who said the so-called “independence” of some assessors was a sham.

ACC lawyers, advocates and claimant groups know those doctors as “hatchet men and women”, Mr Miller said.

I’m not to keen on the airfares, but I do think there is a place for independent assessors, and in fact if you ask many GPs, they will say they find it useful to have them also.

The reality is that it can be very difficult to ascertain how genuine some injuries such as back pain is. And the local GP can come under huge pressure from patients whom they see on a regular basis to give them the benefit of the doubt. They will often say they doubt the symptoms but can’t prove it.

The independent assessors don’t have to maintain a long-term relationship with the person, so  don’t get pressured so much into giving the benefit of the doubt so to speak.

Now I am sure there are some independent assessors who are too harsh, and there is a danger they get into a mindset of refusing all claims. But I would be very wary about anyone who advocates with doing away with the entire system of independent assessors.

What I would be interested in is data on each assessor (not named) and how often they disagree with the original assessment. That data would show you if some are being too zealous.