Dunedin lawyer wants ACC inquiry

Dunedin lawyer Peter Sara is urging ACC to "come clean" over the details of its controversial "VIP claims" handling policy but ACC says it will not comment until the Privacy Commissioner completes an inquiry in three months.

Mr Sara, who has been dealing with ACC cases for more than 30 years, says he also supports the establishment of an independent inquiry into concerns over ACC's handling of long-term claimants, and over the VIP client issue.

The Privacy Commissioner and the Auditor-general have both announced inquiries after continuing public debate over the ACC board's handling of claimant and former National Party insider Bronwyn Pullar.

Ms Pullar has complained to ACC over the way her own ACC claim has been dealt with, and a major breach of privacy occurred when the corporation mistakenly sent her the details of about 67,000 other claimants last year.

An Otago Daily Times story, which appeared on Monday, raised concerns that ACC's "VIP claims" handling policy delivered better protection for the privacy of powerful decision-makers, including MPs, judges, ACC board members and their respective immediate families.

The corporation's delegations manual shows that the final decision on VIP claims is made by ACC managers and not by more junior staff, and ACC has confirmed it takes extra measures to protect VIP confidentiality.

Mr Sara was "unhappy" about aspects of the VIP system and said there was also an undesirable lack of transparency about the way it was operating.

An independent inquiry by a judge or QC was needed to investigate long-standing concerns over the handling of long-standing ACC claims, the ACC "exit strategy" involving long-term claimants, and over the VIP arrangements.

ACC's refusal to clarify the situation until the Privacy Commissioner had reported was unsatisfactory, and what was already known about the VIP arrangements suggested potential preferential treatment, he said.

The Otago Daily Times this week has also asked ACC further questions about how the VIP arrangements operate, and has sought further comment on suggestions that this approach seemed to deliver special treatment to powerful decision-makers, in conflict with New Zealand's egalitarian ethos.

An ACC spokesman said it was "unable to comment further on this matter until the independent review commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been completed."

The review had begun on March 28 and was expected to take three months.

After the review was completed, its findings would be made public, the spokesman said.

Asked whether its VIP approach amounted to preferential treatment, an ACC spokeswoman had earlier said the practice for claims "categorised as VIP on ACC's registration and claim management systems" had followed "the standard allocation and management processes applied to all claims".

"The only difference being security rights and who can make decisions on the claim," she said.

Dunedin ACC campaigner Dr Denise Powell said a fully independent inquiry by a QC or judge was needed into concerns over the handling of long-term ACC claimants, and the VIP claims system.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz


Add a Comment