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Claiming Compensation for Historical Abuse: How Does it Work?

If you’ve suffered abuse in the past, either from an institution or an individual, know that compensation and redress are available. This article will help you to understand ‘historical abuse’ from a legal standpoint, the eligibility criteria for those considering filing a claim and the various legal options made available. 

If you would like personalised legal guidance based on your specific circumstances, we offer a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our compensation lawyers — they will answer any questions you have and inform you of the best course of action for you specifically. 

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What is historical abuse?

Historical abuse encompasses various forms of significant mistreatment from the past, most commonly including physical and sexual abuse. In some cases, it extends to verbal, financial and psychological violations

Who is eligible to file a historical abuse claim?

The eligibility criteria differ depending on whether you decide to file a National Redress Scheme claim or a civil claim. Below is an overview of each, although your claims lawyer can provide you with personalised advice during your free consultation.

Eligibility for filing a National Redress Scheme claim

In 2018, the Australian Government initiated the National Redress Scheme as a way of providing compensation and other forms of redress to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This scheme represents an acknowledgment of the widespread abuse suffered by children within Australian institutions, aiming to ensure accountability. It supports survivors by facilitating access to funded counselling services, offering a personal apology from the implicated institution and providing a monetary redress payment.

The general eligibility criteria is as follows, although more details and exceptions can be found on the National Redress Scheme’s website. To be eligible, an applicant must have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, and this abuse must have occurred before July 1, 2018. The abuse must have taken place within an institution, on its premises or during an activity conducted by the institution. Additionally, applicants must have been born before June 30, 2010, and be Australian citizens or permanent residents at the time of application. There is an exception to this rule for former child migrants who were sent to Australia from the United Kingdom or Malta before 1984, arrived without a parent or guardian, and were made wards of the state, even if they are not currently Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Eligibility for filing a civil claim

While there are advantages to pursuing a claim through the National Redress Scheme, such as a streamlined process and pre-determined compensation amounts, a civil claim may be more suitable for some. 

Civil claims aren’t constrained by the Redress Scheme’s caps, allowing for compensation that is reflective of the survivor’s suffering and loss, often significantly exceeding the Scheme’s $150,000 limit. These claims encompass a broad spectrum of damages, including general (non-economic) loss for psychological and emotional harm, economic loss for the covering of financial damages, and, in rare instances, aggravated and exemplary damages that serve to punish and deter egregious conduct. Furthermore, the scope of accountability in civil claims extends beyond the limitations of the Redress Scheme, targeting any institution or individual offender and covering all forms of abuse, not just sexual. 

The eligibility for filing a civil claim centres on proving that the institution owed you a duty of care, indicating their obligation to ensure your safety and welfare while you were in their care or on their property. It then requires showing that this duty of care was breached, resulting in harm or injury.

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Historical abuse claims: The legal process

If you decide to file a National Redress Scheme claim, the process begins by filling out an application either online or on paper. Help is available for filling out this application, both from your legal team and from the National Redress Scheme. Once the application is filed, an independent decision maker assesses the case. This generally happens within a 3 to 12-month period. Once revised, you will receive an offer that you can either accept or ask for a further revision. The offer may encompass an apology from the accountable institution, the covering of therapeutic services and a lump sum payment. 

Alternatively, if you decide to file a civil claim, the process begins with speaking with one of our claims lawyers through a free consultation. Your lawyer will assess your case, answer any questions you have and inform you on the legal options available to you. The majority of civil claims settle in a private settlement agreement, facilitated by mediation. This is a time- and resource-efficient process where a third-party mediator helps navigate discussions between you and the defendant to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. If a private settlement cannot be reached, although rare, the case may go to trial where a judge or jury will determine the outcome based on the evidence presented. 

Regardless of the legal avenue that’s most suitable for you, your GMP Law solicitor will support and guide you through every step of the process, ensuring that you receive the compensation that you’re rightfully entitled to. 

How much compensation can I expect?

Compensation through the National Redress Scheme is determined on a case-by-case basis — some receive less than $10,000, while others receive the maximum amount of $150,000. The average payout among the approximately 6000 National Redress Scheme applications in 2022 was $90,809. 

Civil case compensation, while also being assessed on a case-by-case basis, ranges significantly. From the civil claims we’ve conducted, almost every one results in payment over $150,000, with some cases settling in excess of $1m.

The amount you can expect depends on the nature of your case; during your free, no-obligation consultation, your lawyer will provide an estimation of your entitlements based on the specifics of your situation, the evidence available and precedents in similar cases.

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Historical abuse claimant receives $435,000 in compensation

In the 1980s, our client participated in a local youth group program that involved midweek and weekend activities, and the occasional camp. During his time with the youth group, our client was groomed and subject to sexual abuse by a group leader. As a result of this abuse, our client suffered debilitating psychological injuries which continued into his adult life.

Our client made the courageous decision to contact GMP Law seeking advice as to his rights for compensation for child abuse. Experienced historical child abuse solicitor, Richele Nelsen, took carriage of the matter and began to gather the evidence required to substantiate the claim and obtain maximum compensation.

Once the evidence had been gathered we commenced proceedings in the District Court of NSW and briefed an expert Barrister who had the like-minded goal to achieve a successful result for our client. We organised for our client to be seen by a Psychiatrist, who prepared a medico-legal report which confirmed that our client had suffered major psychological injuries as a result of the abuse he was subject to as a child. The diagnoses included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), and significant stress and anxiety across major domains of life.

A mediation was organised between the parties to canvas whether the matter could be resolved without the need to proceed to a court hearing. After negotiating with the defendants and with the help of our expert Barrister, we were able to secure a settlement amount of $435,000 — a result our client was pleased with.

Frequently asked questions about historical abuse claims

How long do historical abuse claims take?

For claims filed through the National Redress Scheme, applicants generally receive an offer within a 3 to 12-month period. However, this timeframe can be extended if additional information is required or if there are delays in processing due to a high volume of applications. 

For civil claims, while the majority settle within 12 months through a private settlement agreement, this timeframe can be extended if the case proceeds to trial — potentially spanning several years, particularly if it involves complex legal issues or appeals.

Will I have to go to court?


If your case is unable to be resolved through private settlement negotiations, you might have to go to court. However, in our experience, most cases settle at mediation.

How much will it cost me to pursue a claim?

The cost of your claim can differ significantly depending on the nature of your claim and the legal avenues you decide to go down. 

We offer our clients our no-win, no-fee policy, which means that we don’t charge upfront legal fees and only get paid if your case is successful. And, we take on all the costs associated with your case, including court fees, expert witness testimony costs, and document preparation expenses — meaning you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket.

Receive the compensation you’re entitled to

Our expert team of compensation lawyers is here to ensure you receive redress. Whether you file a claim through the National Redress Scheme or a civil claim, our team will offer you committed, compassionate and competent legal services, working to bring about a successful outcome. 

Start by speaking with one of our claims lawyers who will offer you personalised legal advice and answer any questions you have. Book a free, no-obligation consultation here, or call us on 1800 004 878.

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Successful Historical Abuse Claims

About Us
Gerard Malouf & Partners have provided friendly, experienced legal advice to communities across Australia for over 35 years. Our Personal Injury Lawyers have taken on ten’s of thousands of cases and we are proud to have won billions of dollars for our clients.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.

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