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Legal Advice without the Cost: How IRO funds Injured Workers in NSW

Legal Advice without the Cost: How IRO funds Injured Workers in NSW

Published on May 18, 2021 by Sabrina Morell and Scott DougallSabrina Morell and Scott Dougall

Who takes care of injured workers when suddenly they are facing the double financial hit of mounting medical bills and an inability to work? The Independent Review Office (IRO) is a government body that steps in to grant free legal representation to ensure injured workers are fairly compensated for their loss as a result of a work place injury in NSW. IRO was formally known as the Workers Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO).

IRO will cover the cost of all legal costs and expenses associated with investigating a potential or existing claim as well as challenging a dispute about a claim. Funding is available for the life of a claim, regardless of a worker’s financial circumstances and regardless of whether the claim is ultimately successful.

Who is eligible for IRO funding?

Injured workers will be eligible to receive free legal advice, provided that NSW is the state in which they would usually perform their employment duties. This means that workers can still receive compensation if they are injured outside of NSW in the course of their employment, for example, when travelling for work purposes.

“Exempt workers” including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, coal miners and workers suffering from a dust disease are not eligible for IRO funding.

In the case of workers who die as a result of their workplace injury, IRO funding will be extended to the deceased’s legal personal representative and their dependants.

What does IRO funding cover?

IRO funding covers legal costs associated with:

  • Obtaining legal advice about rights and entitlement under workers compensation legislation regardless of whether a claim has been made.
  • Making a claim for compensation.
  • Investigating a potential claim.
  • Resolving disputes with insurers or employers regarding a work injury.
  • Having a compensation dispute determined by the Personal Injury Commission (PIC).
  • Appealing decisions made by the PIC.
  • Accessing death benefits.

Expenses associated with investigating a claim or disputing a decision about a claim will be covered by IRO funding and often include the cost of obtaining clinical records, medical reports, interpreter services and representation by a barrister.

How does IRO funding work?

A request for funding is made to IRO by a workers compensation lawyer and this request will be approved or declined within 5 business days.

The grant of funding will then be managed by the worker’s lawyer and workers will not be expected to pay for any costs.

IRO operates under a presumption in favour of funding and will grant funding in four separate stages.

Stage 1 – Preliminary Legal Advice

Funding is provided for injured workers to receive early legal advice about a potential or existing claim or dispute.

Stage 1 funding will allow a lawyer to complete a worker’s injury claim form on behalf of the worker as well as to conduct any preliminary enquiries with the insurer or the worker’s treating doctors.

Stage 2 – Investigations and Claims 

Stage 2 funding enables a lawyer to conduct further investigations into a claim such as obtaining medical evidence and to make reasonable attempts to reach an early resolution about a claim.

Stage 3 – Proceedings in the Personal Injury Commission  

Where IRO believes that the worker has an arguable case and reasonable attempts to resolve the claim or dispute have failed, Stage 3 funding will be granted to have the matter determined by the WCC.

If the dispute concerns less than $3,000, IRO will not grant Stage 3 funding unless the worker is under financial hardship or it is in the public interest to do so.

Stage 4 – Appeals and Reconsiderations

Where there are reasonable grounds to appeal a decision made by the PIC, Supreme Court or NSW Court of Appeal, IRO will fund legal advice and representation by a barrister to appeal the decision.

Read the other articles in this series on IRO including the IRO Complaints Process and explaining What is the IRO.

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