8 May 2024

Lord Hain Calls for Extension to Troubles Payment Scheme Application Deadline

The Commission for Victims and Survivors welcomes the call from former NI Secretary of State, Lord Peter Hain, to significantly extend the August 2024 deadline for Troubles Permanent Disability Payment Scheme (known as the Victims’ Payment Scheme) applications to be eligible for backdating.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, Lord Hain expressed concern regarding the pressure placed upon victims and survivors by the deadline. This is largely due to the lengthy process required to obtain relevant evidence and medical records to support their applications.

This may lead to applications for the scheme, overseen by the Victims Payment Board (VPB), being submitted in a rush prior to the deadline to qualify for backdating. Applications of minimal content have will require more information gathering by the VPB, leading to delays.

Lord Hain writes: “As you know the whole scheme had to be built from scratch and it has proved to be more complex than was anticipated, not least because of the time needed to retrieve medical records – where they exist – particularly in cases of psychological trauma.”

“As a result WAVE [Trauma Centre], for example, now has a significant backlog of applicants.”

The backdating period for awards is due to end on 30 August 2024.  This allows payments to be backdated to 23 December 2014, and has the potential to be a significant award in recognition of the serious and permanent injury experienced by many victims and survivors. 

The Commission has called for the backdating period to be extended to the closing date of the Scheme.  This would not affect the number of people eligible under the Scheme but would have a positive impact on its administration and how victims and survivors are able to access it.  In the Commission’s view, it would not increase the total number of applications, or cost, and would avoid incomplete applications being submitted.

As it stands, any applications that are submitted prior to 31 August 2024 will be eligible for 10 years’ worth of backdated payments, and any submitted following this deadline will not receive this backdated, tax-free lump sum.

It is a real concern and possibility that, per the current deadline of the Scheme, two individuals who were physically or psychologically injured in the same incident or to the same degree during the Troubles/Conflict could receive two payments of significantly different quantities – because their applications were submitted one day apart.

Lord Hain also highlighted a lack of awareness of the Victims’ Payment Scheme amongst victims and survivors outside of Northern Ireland.

“…there are also people who are eligible to apply to the scheme who simply do not know of its existence.

“This is especially the case in Great Britain.”

“A delegation from WAVE recently attended a memorial event to mark the 50th anniversary of the IRA bombing of a coach carrying military and civilian personnel on the M62 in West Yorkshire.”

“There they met a number of people, including military veterans, who on the face of it would be eligible to apply, but had no knowledge of the scheme.”

“Given the scheme is due to close to new applicants at the end of August 2026, I would urge you to extend the back dating element to that date in the interests of fairness and compassion.”

The former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, Ian Jeffers, wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in March 2023 expressing similar concerns to Lord Hain, encouraging the removal of the deadline for back payments as a matter of urgency.  

Ian Jeffers provided oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at oral evidence hearing regarding the Victims Payment Scheme December 2023, where he stated the following:

“There is a looming deadline… that we need to consider on this. There is a deadline for applications that will be backdated. That is going to create a huge problem if we do not address that sooner rather than later, because we are going to actually encourage top-level applications in just to meet a deadline to receive a back payment.” 

“That is a significant financial penalty if you are a day late, behind that.”

“At the same time, we need to create the right conditions and look at communications across the island, not just in Northern Ireland, where I think that it is relatively well known. That is based on my conversations with many victims and survivors, many of the groups. Everybody knows about it. It is being talked about. That is not the same when I am having conversations, particularly, with veterans from Operation Banner.”

The Commission supports the calls to action regarding the removal of the backdated payments deadline, a decision that sits with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office.

The removal of the August 2024 backdated payment deadline will give victims and survivors the time to access support in completing necessary paperwork, and allow the Victims’ Payment Scheme to operate efficiently and effectively recognise the suffering and experiences of victims and survivors.

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