The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recommended the establishment of a national redress scheme for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation in England and Wales. In its response last month the UK Government said that it will consult further on the establishment of a redress scheme.

The Home Secretary said she had been "moved" by the personal testimonies of victims and survivors who engaged with IICSA. She went on to say that "This is a real problem of enormous scale and of devastating consequences and today's response to that inquiry report must mark a step change for victims and survivors". She went on to say "That's why I'm announcing a new redress scheme to ensure that victims and survivors can secure some finality, some acknowledgement of what they've been through and, hopefully, some closure".

The Home Secretary accepts that the Government cannot go back and erase what happened, but it can start to atone for the past and this is why the Government has accepted the recommendation to set up a redress scheme. She rightly describes this commitment as ‘landmark’ and notes that while delivering it will be complex and challenging, it will be a testament to the Government’s desire to make amends and support those who were not supported or protected as children. 

The Government will launch an extensive engagement exercise to listen to the views and concerns of a wide range of stakeholders – particularly victims and survivors – on how best to give that acknowledgement through a redress scheme. The detail of the scheme, including eligibility, types of redress available, and application process, will be considered following that engagement exercise.

The engagement exercise will be launched shortly and in the course of that engagement prior to committing to a detailed design for the scheme it will want to look at:

  • the types of redress that might be made available; 
  • the extent of any financial element;
  • eligibility; 
  • and application process

The Government’s response notes the many challenges, complexities and lengthy timelines faced in other jurisdictions which have set up redress schemes in similar circumstances, and sees significant consultation with both institutions and victims and survivors as an important part of the design and implementation of a national redress scheme in England and Wales. One interpretation of this is that the Government hopes to design a national redress scheme and put the underlying funding model in place, prior to establishing and launching the scheme, as was the case in Australia. If this is the case, it is likely to take two to three years before a national redress scheme in England and Wales is operational.

The Government’s response to the redress recommendation also references the Government’s ex-gratia payment scheme for surviving former child migrants, which provided an equal award to every applicant on the basis that they were all exposed to the risk of sexual abuse in being migrated, due to the child migration policy that had previously existed. Should this be seen as an early indication by the Government that their thinking in terms of the amount of redress payable will more likely be a tariff-based redress payment, (such as currently operates in Northern Ireland and Australia) and not an individual redress payment, based on the unique and individual circumstances of each applicant, (as was provided for in the national redress scheme in the Republic of Ireland)?

It is clear that redress will not only be financial and the Government response to this recommendation also recognises the importance for victims and survivors of receiving genuine and meaningful apologies from the institutions where they say they were abused. To facilitate this the Government will also accept IICSA’s recommendation to consider amending the Compensation Act 2006 to make clear that the provision on apologies extends to cases involving vicarious liability for child sexual abuse. It seems that a further consultation on this issue will also take place at an unknown date in the future.

For now, details of an exact timetable for the engagement exercise have not been provided nor has the Government response made it clear how much redress will be paid or how this redress will be funded. When challenged by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper for a timetable and further detail about the Government commitment to establish a national redress scheme, the Home Secretary said that no timetable had been given as the Government didn’t want to give a false impression to victims and survivors that these things will happen overnight. 

While the Government acceptance of this recommendation will be welcomed by victims and survivors and by IICSA, providing  an alternative to bringing a civil claim that could re-traumatise victims and survivors, and where there are also a number of legal hurdles to overcome, the total lack of detail as to how this is actually going to be delivered will be a source of concern both for victims and survivors and institutions, who are still completely unable to gauge what benefit and/or impact taking part in a national redress scheme may have for them and how they might need to plan accordingly.