Governments across Australia have previously legislated to outlaw claim farming in relation to victims of motor vehicles collisions but are yet to move to outlaw claim farming of victims of child abuse.
In 2022 Queensland introduced legislation to outlaw claim farming of victims of child abuse.
Beyond Abuse supports all Australian jurisdictions outlawing this reprehensible practice.
Beyond Abuse is currently in discussion with Governments across Australia to outlaw this practice.
What is claim farming?
The Queensland Parliament have described claim farming as:
Claim farming is a process by which a third party, the claim farmer, cold-calls or approaches individuals to pressure them into making a compensation claim for personal injuries. Claim farmers may use tactics such as implying they act on behalf of government agencies or insurers; inducing or harassing individuals to make a claim with the promise of quick, easy and significant compensation, and even offering to coordinate medical treatment. Claim farmers then sell the individual’s personal information to a legal practitioner or other claims management service provider who handles the claim
Explanatory Notes, Personal Injuries Proceedings and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, Queensland Parliament
Knowmore Legal Service (a free community legal service for survivors of child abuse) describe claim farming as (they refer to claim farmers as ‘survivor advocacy businesses’):
Survivor advocacy businesses are clear that their main role is to act as the conduit between survivors and law firms. Their websites, public commentary from staff and communications with survivors state that their businesses:
- Gather preliminary information from survivors to pass on to law firms, who then send costs agreements to survivors.
- Provide law firms with services such as taking and writing statements and gathering documents.
Client costs agreements seen by knowmore indicate that survivor advocacy businesses are effectively paid referral fees by law firms for introducing survivor clients and passing on initial information which is often very limited and that their services come at a significant cost which is ultimately borne by the survivor.
The abovementioned survivor advocacy businesses appear to have relationships with a large number of law firms across Australia.”
Knowmore submission to the Legal Affairs and Safety Committee on the Personal Injuries Proceedings and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, Queensland Parliament
Reported examples include:
- Distressing experiences of being cold called about the abuse
- Being subject to harassment, intimidation, and high-pressure tactics
- Being asked to sign documents they do not understand
- Being confused about what work is being done for them and who is doing it
- Breaches of privacy including disclosing the fact of the sexual abuse to other parties without the survivor’s consent (this is a criminal offence and is a breach of the Privacy Act 1988)
Vulnerable populations being targeted
All victims of child sexual abuse are vulnerable to exploitation from claim farmers.
Genuine advocacy organisations are aware that law firms and claim farmers are targeting particularly vulnerable populations including:
- Care Leavers
- Prison populations
- Indigenous and remote communities
Knowmore write in their submission to the Queensland Parliament about claim farming in prisons across Australia:
It is also suspected that people in prison are being identified as survivors by other prisoners, who are reported to receive benefits in exchange for providing names to the survivor advocacy businesses.
One RSS [Redress Support Service] reported that one survivor advocacy business was depositing cash into prisoners’ prison accounts for every referral they received. This conduct was reported by a number of prisoners across multiple correctional centres.
Knowmore write in their submission to the Queensland Parliament about claim farming in regional and remote communities across Australia:
Significant claim farming activity is also believed to be occurring in Queensland’s regional and remote communities, particularly Aboriginal communities.
Survivor advocacy businesses (and some law firms) are known to travel to these communities, and there have been reports of survivors in these communities being targeted by aggressive marketing and ‘recruitment’ strategies.
The harm caused by claim farming
Victims of claim farming consistently report:
- Receiving inadequate legal representation
- Being made to settle for inappropriately low quantum (the law firm settles low to take its fees)
- Not having their interests protected, or their needs listened to, or their options properly explained to them
- Being excessively billed by the lawyer
- Being billed additional fees for the claim farmer
- Being placed into inappropriate debt arrangements to pay for fees or costs
Claim farming is an unscrupulous practice which exploits vulnerable people and does not result in the provision of appropriate, quality services (health care, legal representation) for the victim-survivor of abuse.
It is just more exploitation after already too much exploitation in a victim-survivor’s life. It is more betrayal for a person who has already suffered substantial betrayal in childhood.
The practice deprives the victim-survivor of genuine choice and agency in their decision making and journey to justice, as they are pressured and funnelled towards a particular law firm. As you may imagine any law firm prepared to do this and prepared to pay a claim farmer is not going to respect the survivors autonomy during the management of their matter.
Usually excessive fees are billed, either questionable invoicing (difficult for a survivor to prove or challenge), or unethical billing structures, such as charging different grades of fees for a simple tasks such a National Redress Scheme application, or inducing the client to enter into a debt arrangement to pay fees and costs.
Beyond Abuse is working with governments across Australia to outlaw claim farming.
Beyond Abuse would like to see all law firms voluntarily cease their arrangements with claim farmers. Beyond Abuse would like to see victims choose to boycott law firms who engage in claim farming practices. We would like to see claim farming outlawed and those who engage in claim farming prosecuted. There is no excuse or moral defence for the practice of claim farming of victims of child abuse.
Victims of child abuse are already, because of their childhood trauma and injuries, vulnerable to exploitation. Claim farming exacerbates that trauma and exploits that vulnerable. Claim farming reduces victim-survivor’s autonomy and agency by lying to them, deceptive conduct and giving false information (about their legal rights and options for example), channeling them to a specific law firm rather than having the freedom to choose their own. By definition the sort of law firm who engages in claim farming is the sort of law firm who will under-represent the client, not be trauma informed in their practice, and mistreat and exploit the victim.
Accompanying the claim farming misconduct, the law firms and claim farm businesses are consistently reported to be involved in inappropriate billing of the victim of abuse.
This may include:
- The victim pays for the claim farmer (work that should have been done by the law firm)
- Potential double billing
- Inducement to enter into debt / financial lending for disbursements or costs
- Billing for work not done
- Excessive billing
Scaled fees for National Redress Scheme applications
Survivors have reported concerns to Beyond Abuse that some lawyers are billing clients a ‘sliding scale’ of fees based on the quantum offered under the National Redress Scheme. Essentially, the higher the quantum offered, the higher the fee charged by the lawyer.
Survivors should carefully consider whether such billing arrangements are appropriate for them.
Survivors should understand that the ‘acknowledgement payments’ made by the NRS Scheme Operator to survivors of abuse under the National Redress Scheme are based on a published “matrix”. This is a public document that all survivors can view for themselves [hyperlink].
The matrix prescribes the quantum that would be offered to a survivor.
The size of the quantum offered is based on details of the abuse suffered.
It is these details which dictated the offer made.
In other words, the survivor would be offered a certain quantum based on the facts of the abuse whether they were filling out the application themselves or whether a law firm or other entity was assisting them to complete the application.
The offering of a higher rather than a lower acknowledgement payment does not necessarily reflect any greater lever of service delivery to the survivor by the lawyer.
What are the origins of claim farming?
To understand how grubby a practice claim farming is, it has its origins in motor vehicle injuries compensation and the culture of ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers.
Originally the practice involved claim farmers seeking to exploit persons who had been injured in a motor vehicle collision or persons injured in workplace incidents.
In various Australian jurisdictions legislation has been passed to outlaw the practice in relation to motor vehicle collision and workplace injuries.
Sadly the unscrupulous and devious operators who do this have then pivoted their misconduct on to targeting vulnerable survivors of child abuse.
With the commencement of the National Redress Scheme, there has been a spike in reports of claim farmers targeting victims to channel them to law firms to submit applications to the National Redress Scheme – for disproportionate and inappropriate fees and billing.
It is an abhorrent practice which misappropriates money from victims who already have lost so much and, in the case of the National Redress Scheme, do not stand to receive much in the way of reparations considering the abuse they suffered.
Who does claim farming?
- Law firms, particularly ‘personal injury’ law firms (including some prominent household name firms)
- Associated businesses who specialise in targeting and exploiting the vulnerable. These businesses may call themselves ‘advocacy’ businesses but they are not advocacy, they are not acting in the survivor’s interests, they are businesses for profit acting in financial self interest. Some have a lawyer or barrister as their ‘principal’ of the business.
Certain prominent law firms have operated with claim farmers, paying the claim farmer business for the private information of victims or for referral of victims to the law firm. The law firm then profits by representing the victim as their legal representative. You can make up your own mind as to what the quality of that legal representation might be if the law firm is the sort of firm to engage in claim farming practices.
Unfortunately some of the businesses who claim farm try to make themselves appear like ‘advocacy’ organisations, going so far as to use words such as advocacy, etc.
Beyond Abuse does not, has never, and will never, engage in claim farming. We always put the rights and protections and interest of the survivor first and foremost.
We will never accept money from a law firm. We do not recommend any particular law firm over any other. We try to empower survivors to be able to engage with whatever law firm they choose (see selecting a legal representative).
We will never accept money from a survivor for the services or support we provide. We will never disclose a survivors personal information to any party without the express permission of the survivor.
Potential existing privacy and criminal law breaches
Also the practice of claim farming may involve breaches of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) if the privacy information of a survivor of sexual abuse is disclosed to a party without that survivor’s consent. It may also be a criminal offence of publishing the identity of a victim of sexual assault without their consent which can carry a two year prison sentence.
Beyond Abuse supports the investigation and criminal prosecution of any individual, business or law firm engaged in claim farming for possible breach of the Privacy or for identifying a victim of sexual assault without their consent.
Putting an end to claim farming
Beyond Abuse is liaising with reputable advocacy organisations and with Governments across Australia to stamp out this practice.
Queensland has introduced sensible legislation (Personal Injuries Proceedings and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022) to outlaw claim farming in relation to victims of child abuse. The legislation is properly based on the same legislation which stamped out claim farming in relation to motor vehicle collisions.
Beyond Abuse supports the Queensland bill and calls upon all Australian Governments to pass similar legislation in their State and Territory.
Watch this space.
Beyond Abuse supports the advocacy work of Knowmore. Knowmore is an organisation well known to many survivors of abuse for their excellent work during the Royal Commission supporting survivors to engage with the Royal Commission.
Knowmore describe their service as:
Knowmore legal service (knowmore) is a nation-wide, free and independent community legal centre providing legal information, advice, representation and referrals, education and systemic advocacy for victims and survivors of child abuse. Our vision is a community that is accountable to survivors and free of child abuse. Our purpose is to facilitate access to justice for victims and survivors of child abuse and to work with survivors and their supporters to stop child abuse.
Knowmore is funded by the Commonwealth Government, represented by the Departments of Attorney-General and Social Services and the National Indigenous Australians Agency”
Education and Empowerment
Getting the word out and ensuring that survivors are alert to this practice is an important tool in stamping it out and preventing survivors falling victim to grubby claim farmers and the lawyers who feed off the practice.
What can I do if I think I’ve been approached by a claim farmer?
If you think you have been subjected to claim farming practices there are some steps you can take to keep yourself safe:
- Don’t sign any agreements with the entity who you suspect is ‘claim farming’
- Report it:
-You can report it us
– You can report it to Knowmore
– You can report it to the Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, if the matter involves a breach of your privacy
– You can report it to Police if the matter involves a breach of criminal law regarding unlawful disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.
If you contact us and we can support you through reporting it and protecting your interests (police may need a bit of support to understand what has occurred and the relevant legislation).
If you have entered into any agreements as a result of claim farming practices you may have options to have those agreements ripped up.