Armed Forces Compensation Scheme – the system stinks and is in need of urgent investigation and review by an independent body says Hilary Meredith-Beckham

Latest figures for the Armed Force’s Compensation Scheme (AFCS) reported in the press today show that majority of injury appeals between April 2010 and March 2021 resulted in successful outcomes, including a new award or increased support.
The figures show that, more often than not, legitimate compensation claims by our Armed Forces are being turned down by the Government they served, resulting in a costly and stressful appeals process.

None of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with the AFCS since its inception in 2005.

When the MoD launched the AFCS, they did so with little or no consultation from those who had been working in this area of law since 1987 when claims were first allowed for death or injury in service.

Back in 2005, the man behind the scheme was a Mr Ironmonger and, after several requests I, along with colleagues, was invited to discuss the implementation of the scheme with him. Our time slot was 430 pm on a Friday afternoon (when most civil servants had already finished for the weekend) at the MoD’s offices in Whitehall. Our one-hour meeting ran into two-hours during which Mr Ironmonger was visibly sweating and furiously writing. It the clear that the scheme had not been thought through.

Call me a cynic, but the idea of an employer running a “compensation” scheme seemed to me to be a deliberate attempt to reverse the growing trend for civil claims through the courts on 2 counts:

Claims through the courts run into millions of pounds, they’re not subject to a cap as they are under the AFCS.

Claims through the courts are very public. They’re reported in the press, mistakes are uncovered and parliamentary inquiries (Brecon Beacons for example) can sometimes follow. Claims under the AFCS are private. They’re not reported so the public, parliament and the press are in the dark and unaware of what went wrong.

The word “compensation“ as part of the AFCS heading was (and is) totally confusing as it is not compensation by way of the civil courts and a civil claim can still be made – all be it, the tariff level gratuitous payment under the employers scheme would be deducted.

In the early days, the Veterans Agency made payments, but as claims grew and civil claims through the courts declined, the Veterans Agency began to act like an insurer, denying claims wherever possible for obscure reasons that had to be challenged. Veterans, who were already sick and suffering, found this exceptionally difficult and an insult when they had served their country.

Nowadays, with so many valid claims being refused, veterans are forced to endure a long and protected appeal process. The Appeal Tribunal is a court of law but veterans are being asked to represent themselves.

Veterans are also being asked to supply medical reports from psychiatrists with no idea how or where to go to obtain the information they need. The cost can run into thousands of pounds without any guarantee of a successful outcome

The situation has become so bad, the Royal British Legion has a whole department dealing with AFCS claims. .

Matters I have raised over the years with MOD are as follows:

There are no medical checks made by the agency to assess a veteran’s mental capacity to handle large sums of money even when the claim is for a brain injury. The award is paid into the bank account where the salary has been paid with no questions asked. There is no investment advice.

Many veterans on means tested benefits could take advantage of an injury trust whereby the award is ring fenced and cannot be included for benefits assessments protecting their benefits.

There is no information stating how a veteran can also make a possible million-pound claim through the courts. Information should state “this award does not affect your legal rights to a claim through the courts.”

The cost to veterans of attempting to locate and pay for their own medicals if prohibitive.

The system is beset by huge delays.

More clams than not ending up in an appeal process.

Military hospitals frequently complete the application form too early before a medical prognosis can be obtained, leading to a low award and yet again a lengthy appeal.

No independent advice is available.

The whole system stinks and is in need of urgent investigation and review by an independent body.

Hilary Meredith-Beckham