Armed Forces Compensation Scheme Suspended Due to COVID-19
The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS), designed to compensate Armed Forces Personnel injured during service, has been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Scheme was originally introduced in April 2005. It replaces the War Pensions Scheme, which provides compensation for those injured in service before 6th April 2005, applications for which have also been suspended due to the current pandemic.
The Scheme offers compensation to those who have suffered a physical or mental health injury which can either wholly or partly be attributable to military service or have a pre-existing condition which has been made worse by military service.
The AFCS is a no fault scheme which means that awards of compensation are paid without any blame being apportioned. Two main types of awards are available under the Scheme:
- A tax free lump sum payment for pain and suffering;
- A Guaranteed Income Payment (GIP) which is a tax free, index linked monthly payment.
There is a strict deadline which applies under the Scheme and applications must be made within 7 years of the earliest of the following dates:
- The date of the incident leading to the injury or illness;
- The date on which an injury or illness not caused by service was made worse by service;
- In the case of illness, the date of first seeking medical advice for that illness;
- The date of discharge
News that the Scheme would be suspended broke last week when the Ministry of Defence confirmed that they would no-longer be taking on any new cases during this crisis. It was confirmed that the decision had been made as a result of staff being unable to attend the office due to social distancing measures. As a result, they are unable to process casework including requests for new claims, reviews, re-assessments and appeals.
The MoD has said that no applications should be prejudiced whilst the scheme is shut down, for example, those applications which are soon to become out of time. Whilst this is reassuring, I still find it surprising that in this day and age there is a need to shut the whole process down. Modern technology and case management systems should have allowed these applications to be processed remotely. In the meantime, service personnel and veterans may be missing out on much need compensation whilst their applications are delayed. Until the Scheme is again operational, there is likely to be a delay in processing claims whilst the backlog caused by the suspension of the Scheme is cleared.
In addition to an AFCS claim, you can bring a civil claim for compensation if your injury has been caused by negligence. The compensation awarded in civil claims will normally dwarf the awards under the AFCS, because in civil claims you can claim for loss of earnings, benefits and pension. But civil claims will not always be an option for some, for example those who may have suffered their injuries in combat or those who are out of time (a three year limit normally applies).
I am concerned that during such worrying and uncertain times, service personnel and in particular those who are suffering from ongoing physical or mental health problems will have a further cause for concern and suffer delays in receiving compensation which may place them in financial hardship. Those who have recently left the Forces, may also rely on compensation from the Scheme whilst they are seeking to secure alternative employment.
Many military charities who normally provide invaluable assistance to these individuals are also struggling during the pandemic and the impact on them and those very people they are trying to help is sadly inevitable. As we are all living through unprecedented times, there can be no doubt that the consequences are going to be far reaching for many, not least our service personnel. It is only hoped that as social distancing measures work to halt the spread of the disease and lockdown measures are lifted, the AFCS Scheme which provides support to so many can be re-opened and that applications for compensation can once again be processed.
Claire Withey is an associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Military claims. If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Claire free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for specialist legal advice. Alternatively, you can complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Military team will contact you. You can find out more about the team here.