Confession of a guilty man

Guest post from Patupairehe:


Recent events in the media have been bothering me. A few of our so called representatives have been somewhat economical with the truth, in their past dealings with what is now known as the MSD. Some have also been less than upfront with the public, but lets not go there. That is not why I’m writing this. I am writing because I have a confession to make. In the distant past, I too, have failed to meet my ‘obligations’ to the ministry. Not that I feel guilty about it, I just think that if Metiria can ‘fess up, and explain why she did it, then so should I. As she opined in a recent article on the Stuff website, “”…it’s worth me taking the hit if it means New Zealanders understand how appalling our welfare system has become and how easy it is to fix it.” So here is my story…

My now wife & I had children young, and it was often a struggle to make ends meet on an apprentice’s wage in the late 90’s. A family friend suggested we apply for the accommodation supplement, so my then partner phoned WINZ to find out how. She was informed we would be mailed some forms to fill in, and that we would need to bring these to a meeting with a case manager, along with our birth certificates, some of my payslips, and a joint bank account statement (which was to prove that we were in a de-facto relationship).

I remember thinking at the time how silly it was, that they wanted her to prove we were entitled to less money than she would have been, had we not been honest about our relationship. I had to take time off work to set up the joint bank account, and also to attend the meeting with our case manager. At the conclusion of the meeting, the case manager informed us that we were entitled to around $20 each per week, then asked if we both wanted our payments to be made into the joint account. She didn’t seem to understand why I found that question funny.I was also told that I must inform WINZ of any changes to my income, by ringing the call center on payday.

The first time I rang the call center was on a Thursday around 2 weeks later, as I was paid fortnightly. We had already received our first 2 benefit payments, and the lady on the phone informed me that due to me  working overtime, we had been overpaid, but not to worry about it because it would be deducted in installments from future ‘entitlements’. A few days later, we both received letters stating we had been overpaid, that this ‘debt’ must be repaid, that it would be deducted at $X/week, and that our new weekly entitlement was $X/week before repayment deductions.

A fortnight later, I rang the call centre again, and after waiting on hold for around 20 minutes, a different woman answered. As I had worked less hours than last time, she was happy to inform me that both my partner & I had been underpaid, and that we would both be paid the difference (which was <$10) within two working days. I told her to just credit it against what we ‘owed’, but apparently she couldn’t do that. A few days later, we both received a letter, which informed us that an underpayment had been credited to our bank account.

This silliness went on for just over a year, during which my partner & I accumulated just under 30 letters each. Then one Wednesday, our benefit payments didn’t appear in our account. When I rang to report my pay that Thursday, I asked why, and was told that it was because my partner had failed to return a form they had sent her. When I asked her about it, she dug around in our filing cabinet and found it. She had thrown it in there without even opening it, because “They send us stupid bloody letters all the time!”.
The form was around 15 pages long, and asked all manner of irrelevant questions, such as “Are you descended from a NZ Maori?”. To this day I fail to understand what that had to do with my income, or how much rent we paid. But we filled it out honestly anyway, and our benefit was re-instated the following week.

I kept ringing up every payday for several months, and waited on hold for around half an hour on average. The computer generated letters kept arriving, and our average payment amount slowly decreased, as my pay increased. Our payments were down to around $10 each/week when I stopped ringing them. It just didn’t seem worth waiting half an hour on the phone once a fortnight for, and we figured that we’d just wait for them to stop paying us, when we ignored the next written interrogation from them. I had also been informed by a friend, whose sister was a WINZ case manager, that they wouldn’t bother attempting to recover ‘debts’ of under $2000.

Sure enough, my then partner eventually received a form ,and ignored it. A few weeks later, we both had our benefits cut, and she got a dirty letter from WINZ, which stated that we would not get any more money until she filled in the form. She ignored that one too. And that was the last we heard about it.

I’m not sure if things are still the same nowadays. I wouldn’t know, having not claimed a benefit for quite some time. What I do know, is that a significant percentage of the welfare budget is spent on administration, and I can understand why, if my experience is anything to go by.

 

34 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  September 3, 2017

    I can expand on a case I recently mentioned.While being hospitalised with a serious illness, a person who was employed enquired whether they were eligible for any welfare assistance,as it was expected to be around 3-4 months before they returned to work.The employer had the job open to return to.While in hospital they got an advocate to go to WINZ to find out the procedure.WINZ referred them to the hospital social worker who referred them back to WINZ.On leaving hospital and being advised an application could be made online ,this was the next step.Apparantly the only option available for a person in this circumstance was to apply for the jobseekers allowance/dole.Ten days passed after the date of the online application,whereupon an email arrived from the department,advising them to ring the 0800 number and make an appointment with WINZ.WINZ advised there were no appointments available until nearly 4 weeks later.At this point in time 7 weeks have passed by with no income and only by the fact that the individual had some savings to tap ,expenses have been able to be paid.God knows what would have happened had they no savings.The M.O seems to be,make it as difficult as possible to deter anyone seeking…help.

    • PDB

       /  September 3, 2017

      Though they weren’t exactly helpful in assisting this person with an illness this is why people have insurance, either health or loss of income.

      • Gezza

         /  September 3, 2017

        People on low wages with medical conditions find that unaffordable.

        • income protection insurance is crazy steep for the middle NZ, unsure what my southern cross health insurance would cover (if any) in a similar situation

          • PDB

             /  September 3, 2017

            Just checked and the cheapest I could get income protection for a trade apprentice on an annual earn of $40k, with all the bells and whistles (100% wages paid, up to 2 years payments) was $8.50/week. Money well spent I’d suggest. What are union fees per week for instance?

            • patupaiarehe

               /  September 3, 2017

              Interestingly enough Pants, the price of income protection cover is subject to a medical assessment. Premiums can increase significantly, due to a common illness, such as depression, for example. My union fees (when I belonged to one) were around $10/week

            • Blazer

               /  September 3, 2017

              try premiums for over 50.Most companies will not entertain it.The few that do…around $35-40 a week.

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              That’s true Blazer but there is good reason for that if someone is over 50. $35/wk for all the bells and whistles (75% of wage paid, up to 2 years worth of payments etc) – less cost if you wish to downgrade the benefits gained. Again long-term money well spent.

        • PDB

           /  September 3, 2017

          Which isn’t the case in Blazers example because they had savings that paid for it.

          Normally the employer helps out in this situation, sick and annual leave is paid out and from my personal experience of people in similar sorts of situations the govt is more than helpful if people can’t possibly pay.

          https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/a-z-benefits/emergency-benefit.html

          • Gezza

             /  September 3, 2017

            You really do need to enter the system in dire straits to find out how mind-bendingly horrific it can be, whatever you read on their website. some of the lettes you get csn be incomprehensible & not at all reflect what you were told by the call centre.

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              An emergency benefit is exactly that – paid out with ASAP with the details sorted later. In Blazers example the person was still employed, as their employer was holding open their job, and they had money to cover their costs so not an emergency.

            • Gezza

               /  September 3, 2017

              I’m sorry – I need to ignore you on this matter now.

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              People need to take the emotion out of such issues and look at what really is/isn’t going on.

            • Gezza

               /  September 3, 2017

              The trouble often IS people taking the emotion out of such issues & not going through it themselves – which mite put a bit of fkn emotion IN it for them.

              (PS: Whatever happens after the election, I still don’t think you’ll need that 2nd job you were apparently thinking about.)

              Later dude. Luv ya like a brother ☘👍🏼

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              Too easy to bash a govt simply because it is the thing to do regardless of the truth. Blazers example is a person that has the means to cover their loss of income hence not an emergency. In a real income emergency the govt will come to a person’s aid. Yes – a lot of govt red tape is nonsense & there will always be cases of the govt stuffing up but more often or not people in need in this country get the help they require.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  September 3, 2017

              In a real income emergency the govt will come to a person’s aid.

              Oh really Pants? When my wife was involved in a serious accident, which incapacitated her for several months, we got sweet FA from ACC. I attempted to get help from them to cover the sudden reduction in my income, due to having to do the ‘school run’ before and after work, and was told “Sorry, we can’t help you, it’s your wife who is injured”. Fortunately we had a house to ‘use as an ATM’. A lot of people don’t.

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              Again, every situation is different and hard to comment unless I know all the detail. As I said govt agencies do stuff up but I think this is way overstated by the ‘squeaky wheels’. Most people have nothing but good things to say about going through our hospital system for instance but we never ever hear from these people in the press, only the negative ones.

            • Blazer

               /  September 3, 2017

              @PDB…they had nothing but praise for the health professionals that cared for them.Be surprised if the emergency benefit is paid out without an interview and comprehensive documentation.This person has a job to return to,but can only apply for jobseeker allowance.Go figure.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  September 3, 2017

              I have no gripe with any of the medical professionals who saved my ataahua wahine’s life Pants. It is the system that is fuct. When I was on ACC, they were more than happy to pay me close to a grand per week to sit on my arse, but when my wife almost died, we got next to nothing.

          • Gezza

             /  September 3, 2017

            😕 * not entirely unlike that paragraph. 😬

          • Blazer

             /  September 3, 2017

            what you are saying is,you get penalised for saving.What I found remarkable is that they had to book an appointment and none were available for..weeks.How could they get an emergency benefit under those conditions?

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              As I’ve explained an emergency benefit is paid out and the details sorted later. In the case of your example it wasn’t an emergency (they had funds to cover loss of income costs) hence why that wasn’t an option. I’m surprised they even bothered to go for a WINZ payment considering they were still employed.

              In the case of someone being able to save they should have some sort of insurance – we don’t expect the govt to replace our house if it burns down and we are not insured, income should be the same. In your example instead of buying insurance the person has saved money instead to cover the lack of income situation they found themselves in.

              Penalised for saving? Should people be able to go on benefits no matter how much money they may have in their savings accounts? So if I’ve just become unemployed and I’ve $100k locked away in my savings account I should be paid a full unemployment benefit & not have to dip into it?

            • Blazer

               /  September 3, 2017

              not sure what the policy is..although I recall a guy living on the street and on the benefit had savings of 70k.
              ‘ I’ve $100k locked away in my savings account I should be paid a full unemployment benefit & not have to dip into it’….using the same rationale,should you recieve Nat Super if you’re extremely..wealthy?

            • PDB

               /  September 3, 2017

              .”…should you recieve Nat Super if you’re extremely..wealthy?”

              Nope – the extremely wealthy should miss out – the threshold should be relatively high though.

  2. Pete Kane

     /  September 3, 2017

    Great (insightful) Column Mr Patu.

    • patupaiarehe

       /  September 3, 2017

      Thanks PK. Got a ‘WINZ story’ yourself?

      • Pete Kane

         /  September 3, 2017

        No,not really. IRD, well that’s a novel.

        • Gezza

           /  September 3, 2017

          😕
          Sounds grim. 😠 Tax haven / not tax haven issues, PK? 😳

  3. Gezza

     /  September 3, 2017

    Very nice, patu. Yes, from the recent experience of a friend of mine such weekly micro-managing silliness still abounds to the extent that if you don’t have a mental health problem when you enter the system you are probably lucky not to have one when you exit it.

    • patupaiarehe

       /  September 3, 2017

      I figured that not much would have changed. Large organisations are good like that 😉

  4. Trevors_elbow

     /  September 3, 2017

    NZ needs better wages… not better benefits. And neither Labour or National have delivered that better wages goal for 30 plus years. All we get is slowly creeping tax increases, more benefit transfers and more bludging…

    Not a jibe at you Patu…. General observation.

    Productivity growth is abysmal in NZ and it leads to never ending tax and spend demands

    • patupaiarehe

       /  September 3, 2017

      Not a jibe at you Patu…. General observation.

      Well actually Trev, I completely agree. Real wages in this country have been going backwards for quite some time, when one factors in the exponential increase in housing costs over the past few decades. If we want to increase our productivity, reducing the number of public servants in call centres would be a great start, don’t you think?

  5. Brown

     /  September 3, 2017

    I found the joint bank account requirement as evidence of a relationship an interesting issue. I’ve been married for 12 years and still don’t have a joint account with my wife who is by far the greater earner and to whom I’m completely devoted (haven’t had a joint account with anyone since first wife emptied one before she flicked me). My wife and I work together of course and a joint account seems quite pointless to us with both routine and non-routine matters dealt with as may be required.