Offer of payment with a catch angers widower

Widower Fin Heads, of Mosgiel, has had a 15-year battle with ACC following the death of his wife....
Widower Fin Heads, of Mosgiel, has had a 15-year battle with ACC following the death of his wife. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A widower who has fought a 15-year legal battle with ACC after his wife’s death has slammed a proposed ex gratia payment as a "gagging order".

Mr Head’s wife, Shirley, was killed in a work-related accident in 2008 after a truck hit her when she was out running an errand from her job at the hospital.

Mr Heads was made to choose between getting his pension or the ACC payout from her death.

After a lengthy legal battle, the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) found he was discriminated against on the basis of age and disadvantaged to the tune of $78,000 over four years.

In December, he was offered an ex gratia payment of $50,000 by the attorney-general, on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and ACC.

MBIE was the agency responsible for setting the relevant policy, while ACC had the role of service delivery.

The payment was described as a "gesture of goodwill" recognising his efforts contributed to positive changes in the Accident Compensation Amendment Act 2019.

The changes removed the provisions which the HRRT found discriminated based on age — but they were not retrospective, so Mr Heads continued his fight.

The payment would require he not bring any further proceedings related to the matter.

Mr Heads said he was "pretty hot" about the issue, as the HRRT finding and the subsequent change of law showed the Crown was in the wrong.

"It doesn’t sit well with me," he said.

He believed if an ex gratia payment was offered it should be on top of the backpay of his pension with interest.

He had believed since day one that ACC had effectively fined him for his wife’s death.

Mr Head’s wife was 37 days from retirement when she was killed.

A few months later he was told he was entitled to receive both his wife’s ACC compensation and superannuation for only one year.

Usually, ACC compensation would be available to a bereaved spouse for five years.

But Mr Heads was told an underlying principle was people could receive only one benefit payment at a time.

Mr Heads believed both ACC payments and superannuation payments were entitlements rather than benefits.

He considered his battle for recompense to be a question of upholding the social contract.

He had known others in similar situations to him who had not been able to fight the system and had died before the resolution of their cases.

He believed most people would not have fought the system and that was what government agencies were counting on.

He was happy he got the law changed because now his situation could not be repeated, but would keep on fighting for what he believed he was owed and a change of culture at ACC.

He was talking to his lawyer about the next steps in his fight.

In a joint statement, ACC and MBIE said they recognised Mr Heads’ efforts to change the legislation would benefit other New Zealanders. However, Mr Heads had no legal entitlement to compensation because he received all the payments that he was entitled to at the time.

The Crown therefore offered Mr Heads the ex gratia payment which recognised that the HRRT declaration in Mr Heads’ favour had led to an amendment to the Act which would benefit other New Zealanders, they said.

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