The historical institutional abuse redress board is “not functioning to an acceptable level”, a Stormont committee has heard.
Compensation is being paid to people harmed in residential homes run by religious orders and the state in Northern Ireland following the opening of the fund last year.
The payments were a key recommendation in the outcome of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who chairs the oversight committee for the Executive Office, criticised the length of time applications take, the “very traumatic experience” of some abuse survivors and “disparity” of awards.
“The redress board is not functioning to a level that is acceptable by those within the victim and survivors sector,” he said.
“One thing that’s been communicated to us by every sectoral group is that there are problems with the redress board.”
Last month the committee heard from Fiona Ryan, commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse, who said one year on from the first applications, 506 have gone to final determination.
She said the redress board was “established under the presumption that there will be 5,000 applications”, which she said suggests that based on current figures, it could take “up to 10 years to complete this work”.
Mr McGrath suggested a formal review of the board.
Executive Office official Gareth Johnston said he was not shying away from the concerns raised, and he wanted to address the concerns.
“A year into the scheme is a good time to look into how all of the scheme operates,” he said.
Mr Johnston told MLAs that the most up to date figures for the redress board showed a “significant number of applications” had been received, and more than £15 million paid out.
He said by the end of April, out of 1,387 applications for redress, 717 had been assessed by a panel. Out the remaining applications, 166 were incomplete with more information required, 158 were waiting for more information, 109 were waiting for information from institutions, and 134 were to be heard during May.
“In terms of what you might say was a backlog, there were only actually 94 cases that were waiting to be listed and another nine at the end of April that had been received and were going through the clerical processes,” he said.
The committee also heard that “good progress” is being made for survivors who live in Great Britain who have received awards losing benefit entitlement.
Earlier the committee heard from Margaret Bateson and Oliver Wilkinson from the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS).
VSS was appointed last October to provide health and wellbeing support to historical institutional abuse survivors, and launched the service on December 1.
Ms Bateson told MLAs she knew of incidents where abuse survivors had paid for funerals for other survivors, describing that as “difficult to hear from a survivor”.
She urged MLAs to look at a way to stop this happening again.
Ms Bateson also said some “interim” services are being provided for survivors of Magdalene Laundries and mother and baby homes – which were not included in the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry remit – in terms of a “listening ear” or access to a therapist.
“In terms of medium to longer term support, that’s not sufficient,” she said, describing an “urgent need”.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie asked Mr Johnston in the later session whether a funeral fund had been set up for those who died before receiving redress.
Mr Johnston said the matter has been discussed in recent months.
However he said funeral costs were not part of the Hart report following the inquiry.
He said it is “impossible not to be moved” by the stories of people who died in difficult circumstances and those being supported by survivors groups, but the Executive Office is facing the issue of “setting a precedent for one group of victims and survivors”.
“We have found it difficult to find a way of moving forward on this,” he said, adding that officials are looking at a potential alternative source of funding such as a trust fund.
Mr Johnston was also asked about the possibility of the churches involved with the running of the institutions where survivors suffered abuse contributing to redress payments.
He said ministers had met Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell, Barnardos and representatives of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland in February.
He said all “agreed that acceptance of responsibility and recognition of the harm done were central to the way forward”, adding the next step will be a round table meeting.