Under-staffing, a bureaucratic bottleneck and institutional delays are leading to a massive backlog in applications for the national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, with less than 10 per cent of applications processed to date.
Of the 4453 applications for payments up until July 26, just 313 people have been paid, with another 130 considering offers, as the government says staff numbers are increasing and work is being fast-tracked.
Some survivors have been waiting more than a year for their applications to be processed and offers to be made, despite the department's guidance of three to 12 months.
According to the framework developed for the national redress scheme, an application should be processed by an assessor, who would verify the supplied information, calculate how much money the applicant is eligible to receive and make a recommendation to an independent decision maker.
But The Canberra Times has been told the Department of Social Service has introduced an extra layer between the assessors and the decision maker, with two department staff acting as gatekeepers and creating a bottleneck of applications.
The Morrison Government recognises that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have been waiting a long time for redress.Social Services Minister Anne Ruston
The government denies the department is acting as an extra layer of approval, but said Department of Human Services staff were leading a process with a "quality assurance step" to ensure applications had all the necessary information before being handed to one of the four independent decision makers.
"The Morrison government recognises that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have been waiting a long time for redress," Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said.
"This is the first time a scheme of this type and scale has been established in Australia and with that has come a number of complexities."
Ms Ruston committed to improving the scheme and said her department was looking at ways to speed up the process.
"I acknowledge the scheme is not perfect and we can and will improve the system for survivors. That is why I have asked my department to investigate how we can improve the process and I have instructed the department responsible for processing applications to fast track their work."
Staff and contractors working on the scheme have been told in recent months to increase their output, with targets of how many applications should be completed each week.
More than a quarter of the applications made so far came in the first two months of the scheme, and while the rate at which applications are processed has increased in recent months, it hasn't caught up with the initial surge.
Delays have also been caused by institutions coming on board late and also asking for extensions on the amount of time taken to respond to requests for further information on as many as half of the requests.
The Canberra Times has heard mixed views on the implementation of the scheme, with some advocates calling for reform and others reassured by the results seen so far. There is agreement that wait times should be shorter, with more transparency about how long the claim process will take.
"It's the waiting that's causing so much anxiety and depression, they told people to come forward and we'll deal with your case in an expedient manner but it's not happening," said Leonie Sheedy, chief executive of the Care Leavers Australasia Network.
Ms Sheedy said the delays were also a problem because payments made under the scheme were indexed against prior payouts made by institutions, with the indexation growing over time.
"They're being indexed 1.9 per cent for every year they've had that money, even while they are waiting for redress. So if your application takes two years you're being indexed 1.9 per cent."
Ms Sheedy said the process could be retraumatising, and there needed to be more transparency around how it worked and how payments were calculated. She said the forms were obviously written by "middle class bureaucrats" and could be difficult for care-leavers with low literacy.
Prue Gregory, principal lawyer at Know More, a legal advice service for survivors, said the scheme was world-first and she was starting to see good results for those who had made applications, including three who had received the full $150,000 available under the scheme.
Ms Gregory said some delays had been caused by state governments or institutions coming on board after the July 1, 2018 starting date, but that cases for gravely ill or elderly people had been dealt with in a timely manner.
"Our clients have very little trust in institutions, obviously, and knowledge to them is really important," Ms Gregory said, supporting a recommendation from a parliamentary committee earlier this year that average waiting times be published by the scheme.
"It's really helpful for clients to know where they are in the process and they can accept that, so if they know the average wait time right now is six weeks or six months, the fact that they know that will mean they won't sit at home waiting for the postman or the telephone call.
"That will reduce the stress they're feeling."
But like Ms Sheedy, Ms Gregory also said more transparency was needed, especially around waiting times.
In June the department said the average payment made was about $83,000 and Ms Gregory said of the 39 clients her practice had seen who had accepted applications the majority had received more than $90,000.
Some of those payments had been reduced due to having received prior payments, including payments related to non-sexual abuse.
"We are seeing instances where prior payments which related to just physical abuse, so there was no mention of sexual abuse, they have been regarded as relevant prior payments. In those instances we have requested a review of the decision that's been made," Ms Gregory said.
Overall Ms Gregory was positive about the scheme and the achievement of bring all the states, territories and institutions under the one system.
According to the Department of Social Services, fewer than 10 applications have been knocked back, while in March it was revealed fewer than 10 people had died while waiting for their application to be processed.