Call for independent ombudsman on ACC

Establishing an independent ombudsman to deal with ACC issues would restore some of the corporation's lost credibility and public goodwill, Dunedin ACC campaigner Dr Denise Powell says.

ACC decisions can be appealed through a statutory review system and the courts, but complaints, made under the Code of ACC Claimants' Rights, can also be referred to ACC's Office of the Complaints Investigator (OCI).

ACC's internet site states the OCI ''provides a free and impartial service'' and ''actively resolves concerns about ACC, focusing on enhancing the relationship between ACC and its stakeholders''.

Dr Powell, who is president of Acclaim Otago, an Otago ACC claimant support group, said the credibility of the investigator's office had been reduced among many ACC claimants because it was not fully independent. Earlier last year ACC Minister Judith Collins emphasised the need for the ACC board and management to ''rebuild'' public trust.

She also wanted ''more disputes resolved satisfactorily'' without the need for formal independent resolution.

ACC figures indicate long-term national claimant numbers fell by more than 3600 or 25% to about 10,626 over the past three financial years. And long-term claimants fell more than 15% in Otago over the past financial year, to 1014 on June 30 last year. Government officials had earlier highlighted the need to trim excessive ACC costs, but critics say many long-term claimants were ''exited'' unfairly, and many had had ACC coverage restored on appeal.

Dr Powell said that appointing an ombudsman would show ACC had ''a genuine desire to address issues of concern''.

It was also in ACC's interests to show it was ''thinking outside the square'' and trying to ''identify new ways of doing things''.

An ombudsman could not only help individual claimants, but also help resolve issues which also concerned many others, such as long-running problems with the ACC 167 consent form, she said.

A recent major review, initiated by the Privacy Commissioner, highlighted problems with the excessively broad nature of the form and noted the need for stakeholder input.

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