Exclusive: Minister admits ACC’s Accredited Employer Programme has 'flaws'

Source: 1News

ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni has admitted there are flaws in a special “accredited” injury programme, that allows some of the country’s biggest employers to manage their own injury claims in-house.

Her comments follow a 1News investigation, exposing problems with the handling of injury claims under the scheme.

The Government is considering overhauling parts of ACC’s Accredited Employer’s Programme and could bring a paper to Cabinet as early as February, suggesting changes that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers.

More than 140 New Zealand employers are members the accredited programme – or AEP – an arrangement which allows them to choose whether to approve or deny injury cover for their own employees.

They are given a significant discount on their ACC levies, but must assume responsibility for every injury suffered by their workers. That includes rehabilitation, the paying of weekly compensation and other important entitlements that would normally be handled by ACC.

Earlier this week, a 1News investigation uncovered problems at one of those “accredited” employers – the food manufacturer Talley's Group.

Audit documents show they were failing to care for their injured staff back in 2019, paying some the wrong amount of cover and providing poor rehabilitation to others, before making improvements.

The Minister responsible for ACC, Carmel Sepuloni, spoke to 1News on Wednesday but would not comment on that specific example.

However, she did admit there were problems in “accredited” scheme.

“I think I would accept that,” she said, when asked whether it had flaws.

“There are areas that need improvement and we certainly need to work on that.”

However, she was less clear on what those flaws actually were, repeatedly referencing “feedback” she had received.

At one point she responded to 1News' questions, by asking questions of her own.

“There are concerns that there isn't the level of accountability in place for the accredited employers that are part of the scheme,” she said.

“How do we hold them to account when there isn't compliance, how do we ensure that actually everything is being done within the power of the employers to prevent injuries?

“I think that's a matter of tightening up some of those expectations, as well as making those clearer. Some of the feedback is that we need a higher level of consequence when is there is non-compliance.”

But the ACC Futures Coalition believe the scheme needs more than "tinkering", saying the whole thing should be thrown out.

Lawyer and coalition co-convener Hazel Armstrong said all injury claims should be sent back to ACC to remove the “conflict of interest” held by employers.

“Why is she perpetuating this scheme, why bother?” she said.

“Why not just bring it all back into the ACC, what is the problem? What is ACC not doing that she thinks it should do? If she does think there are flaws in the way that ACC is handling work-related claims, well then she needs to fix that problem.”

Some in Parliament want change too, including National’s ACC spokesperson Simon Watts.

“It should be reviewed, it is another symptom of an organisation that is in disarray,” he said.

“The Minister needs to take accountability for the performance of her entity, at the moment she seems to be taking a pretty long lunch in terms of dealing with these important issues.”

Green Party ACC spokesperson Jan Logie said the party had “never supported” the accredited employer scheme.

“We think it creates a conflict of interest for employers between their fiscal bottom line, and the well-being of their staff,” she said.

“There's a reason to have an independent agency looking after compensation and health and safety of workers.”

Minister Sepuloni did not agree, saying she was “not convinced” that the “baby needs to be thrown out with the bathwater here”.

The paper is on the agenda for cabinet in early 2022 and, if approved, will go out for public consultation after that.

In the meantime hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders are working under a "flawed" system.