Work and Income unlawfully withholding redundant worker payments “for decades”

According to RNZ Work and Income have been illegally delaying paying redundant workers until they have used up all their redundancy funds.

On Friday: Work and Income acts ‘unlawfully’ over benefits and redundancy payments

Work and Income has been acting “unlawfully” and ignoring its own legislation by telling people paid redundancies that they are not eligible for a benefit till that money runs out.

It came to light after RNZ detailed the story of Mary*, a hotel worker made redundant when the Covid-19 lockdown began.

She applied for a job seeker’s benefit but was told she would not receive anything till her redundancy runs out in September.

Work and Income’s Kay Read, group general manager client service delivery, said on Wednesday that payments received when a person stopped work, such as holiday pay and some severance payments, would delay the time when income support payments started.

However, section 422 of the Social Security Act makes clear when calculating a person’s income and benefit level, Work and Income is to “take no account of a redundancy or retirement payment”.

The legislation states:

Regulations made under subsection (1) may (without limitation) authorise MSD,..

(c) in calculating the income of a person for the purpose of determining the rate of benefit, to take no account of a redundancy or retirement payment.

It should have been easy to question and rectify.

Mary’s case was reviewed this week after RNZ asked questions. She has been told a mistake was made and she can receive the benefit.

Mary said it was great to have better news but she was very worried and angry about how many other people had been wrongly advised and simply given up.

The Work and Income employee she dealt with had many years’ experience. She told her she had always applied the rules in this way.

Today:  Work and Income wrong on benefits and redundancies for decades

Work and Income appears to have spent decades wrongly advising some benefit applicants that they cannot get support until their redundancy has run out.

Work and Income admitted on Friday it had made an error after it rejected the benefit claim of Mary, an Auckland hotel worker, due to her Covid-19 redundancy payout.

The reversal came after RNZ pointed out that the Social Security Act said redundancy should not be a factor when calculating an entitlement to a benefit. A community law expert said that the law relating to redundancy and benefits had not changed substantially since 1994.

RNZ asked those in a similar situation to Mary to get in touch and has been inundated with scores of emails that highlight cases not only from the past few months, but dating back to the 1990s.

Among them were:

  • In 2018 a 63-year-old man was told he had to wait 16 months till his redundancy ran out before he could get the benefit. By that time he was only three months off his pension.
  • A woman who was made redundant twice, in different parts of the country, and denied the benefit both times. Eventually she was declared bankrupt after losing her house.
  • In 2012 a man who spent six months “burning through all our savings” before he found work.
  • In 2011 a former defence force worker says he was told he should return when the money had run out.
  • In the early 2000s a sole parent who lost his hospital job and then had to live on his $20,000 redundancy.
  • A new dad who was made redundant in the early 1990s and told he couldn’t get anything for six months. He got sick and the family’s debt spiralled.
  • A number of people decided not to apply after reading on the Work and Income website they couldn’t because of their redundancy.

Up until Friday, Work and Income’s site continued to say that if a person received a redundancy “your payments from us will start once [it’s] finished”.

RNZ has asked Work and Income and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni a number of further questions about how long the practice had been in place; the number of people affected and whether back payments may need to be made.

A spokeswoman for the minister said Sepuloni had not been aware of the issue but had asked officials for a briefing on Monday. They had advised it was an “operational issue”.

I wonder if this comes under the Prime Ministerial gagging directive.

I’m shocked that it has taken this long to become an issue. Surely people will have complained in the past.

Work and Income earlier said staff had been reminded redundancy payments should not form part of calculations made as to when a person’s benefit payments should start.

It was encouraging anyone who has concerns about how it had calculated their benefit start date to get in contact.

This will affect many people who have been paid less than they are entitled to, but backdating correct payments for decades would be a mammoth correction.

No questions asked (no sanctions) welfare

One of just three changes as a result of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report is contentious – it will remove (next year) a sanction (reduction in sole parent benefit) for mothers who don’t name the father of their child or children:

The Government will scrap the discriminatory sanction that cuts income to women and their children if the name of the child’s father is not declared to the Government.

Removing the section 192 sanction will cost $113.4 million over 4 years and will come into effect on 1 April 2020.

The Green Party has wanted a range of sanctions and requirements for getting benefits removed for some time. It was championed by Metiria Turei as she crashed and burned her political career just before the 2017 election, and her successor as Green co-leader, Marama Davidson, has also promoted much higher benefits with no questions asked.

It doesn’t actually start today, it starts in April 2020.

National imposed the sanctions and oppose their removal. Stuff: Government to scrap benefit sanction for solo mums, among welfare changes

National’s spokeswoman for social development, Louise Upston, said her party disagreed with the bulk of the report, “which would see fewer obligations imposed on beneficiaries and fewer incentives to get back into work”.

“Increasing the abatement threshold for people on benefits means people can keep more of what they earn. This is a welcome incentive to encourage more people into work.

“National believes that New Zealanders should be given a hand up, not a hand out and those who can work, should.”

ACT leader David Seymour…

…said removing sanctions on women who don’t name the father of their child is a complete reversal of position for Labour.

“In 2004, Social Development Minister Steve Maharey said: ‘It is a rort, and I have said time and time again in this Parliament that fathers must front up to their obligations, and we will make sure they do … It is not unreasonable to penalise financially those who do not.’

“This change will mean taxpayers will assume greater responsibility for supporting children, rather than their fathers.

Auckland Action Against Poverty…

…said it was glad to see the Government “finally taking action to stop punishing sole parents and children”.

It urged the Government to also ensure that every woman who had been penalised by the sanction received back pay, however the Minister told media this would not happen.

From the WEAG report:

The current benefit system is based on a one of conditionality and sanctions. We heard overwhelmingly through our consultation that such a system diminishes trust, causes anger and resentment, and contributes to toxic levels of stress. The application of obligations and sanctions in New Zealand (and elsewhere) is problematic.

The empirical literature provides no single, overarching answer to whether obligations and sanctions in welfare systems bring about the desired forms of behavioural change, such as movement into paid work or whether the positive effects of obligations outweigh the negative (Watts & Fitzpatrick, 2018: 111).

Research does indicate that obligations and sanctions can be costly to administer and comply with and have many harmful unintended consequences that compound social harm and disconnectedness (for example, movement in and out of insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment; disengagement from the social security system; increased poverty; increased crime to survive; worsened ill-health and impairments) (Economic and Social Research Council, 2018; Watts & Fitzpatrick 2018; Butterworth et al, 2006; Kiely & Butterworth, 2013; Davis, 2018). There is even less evidence that non-work-related obligations and associated sanctions achieve the stated aims of intended behavioural modification.

A high number of obligation failures15 are disputed (46%) and almost all (98%) of these disputes are upheld with the failure being overturned.

Require mutuality of expectations and responsibilities

The current obligations and sanctions regime must be immediately reformed into a system of mutual expectations and responsibilities that are applied according to the circumstances of the individual. They must be applied in a way that meets the values of the system, with robust checks and balances to mitigate potential negative impacts on individuals and their families and whānau.

Removing the father naming sanction makes it easier for fathers to avoid responsibility.

The report recommended a range of obligations and sanctions be removed.

  • the requirement to complete specific activities before a benefit is granted (pre-benefit activities)
  • the sanction where benefit payments stop if people have a warrant out for their arrest, and continue data matching with the Ministry of Justice and take a proactive supportive approach to contacting these people
  • social obligations that require people receiving a benefit to take all reasonable steps to have their children enrolled with a medical practice, be up to date with their Wellchild/Tamariki Ora checks and be attending early childhood education or school
  • pre-employment drug testing and provide specialised support for people with substance use disorders
  • the mandatory work ability assessment for people with health conditions or a disability and link workability assessments to return to work plans
  • the requirement to reapply for a benefit every 52 weeks – MSD is expected to provide full and correct entitlements through regular reviews (at least annually)
  • work obligations when an additional child is included in a benefit (the subsequent child rule)
  • the sanction on not naming another parent (was section 70A in the Social Security Act 1964 and is now section 192 of the Social Security Act 2018).

Only the last of those is being being removed by the Government, so most sanctions will remain.

The cost of removing the s192 parent naming sanction is estimated to cost $113.4 million over 4 years, which is $28.35 million annually.

“Around 24,000 children will be significantly better off as a result of this change, with many sole parents’ incomes increasing by an average of $34 a week,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

That’s a lot of children with unnamed fathers.

Doing some calculations the budget suggests about 16,000 solo mothers will have an income (benefit) increase, that’s a lot who don’t name fathers – it’s nearly a quarter of the total of about 60,000 receiving Sole Parent Support  (some of those will be fathers).

Why don’t mothers name fathers?

Some will genuinely not know who the father is, or will be uncertain. And some mothers will have legitimate reasons for having nothing to do with fathers.

In other cases men named as fathers may deny they are the parent.

And there must be some arrangements of silence of convenience, where the mother doesn’t name the father so he doesn’t have to pay maintenance, but under the table support arrangements are made.

$28.35 million annually is not a lot in the whole scheme of social welfare, which has a current  annual budget of $30.6 billion.

This is a small win for the Greens, but when the sanction is removed many children and low income families will be better off, which generally is a good thing.

It may cost a bit more as more solo mothers are likely to choose to not name the fathers, which is likely to reduce the number fathers paying maintenance, but this is likely to be not substantial.

Second blunder by Work and Income with same beneficiary

A woman has had her benefit cut for the second time – Work and Income have admitted another blunder.

RNZ in April: Woman told her benefit was cut because of Tinder dates

The Ministry for Social Development has apologised to a woman who was told her benefit was stopped because she had been on two Tinder dates.

The solo mother of three said she told her Work and Income case manager the man paid for dinner and a movie, and the case manager said it was a dependent relationship.

The South Auckland woman, who RNZ has agreed not to name, said she told her case manager about the two dates because she was trying to be up front.

The case manager pulled a card from her desk and described what a relationship was to the woman.

“She then asked me whether on my dates he had financially paid for me,” she said.

“I said yes, but that I had offered to pay for myself.”

The case manager then said if he was paying for her dates then she could rely on him for money and WINZ will see that as a relationship, she said.

The woman has been on the benefit since January after her former employer tried to swap her shifts into night shifts, which she couldn’t take-on with three young children.

She said the incident left her feeling ashamed and stressed.

“The way they speak to me, it’s really nasty.”

Quibbling over who pays for a date is oppressive.

But it gets worse. Today RNZ reports: Woman has benefit wrongly suspended for second time

The Ministry of Social Development has admitted it again failed to follow proper process, by not following up with the woman after she told them her daughter would be staying with her grandmother for part of the week.

That was so her daughter didn’t have to change schools after the family moved from west Auckland to South Auckland, the woman said.

Because it meant a change to her circumstances, and she was on the sole parent benefit, the woman knew she should tell Work and Income.

“I knew that this was a big change, I didn’t want to get in trouble so I thought, you know, I’ll call just I just want to be safe.”

But her sole parent benefit was suspended.

The woman said she made repeated attempts to get in touch with Work and Income to sort it out – to no avail.

It was only when she got an advocate from Auckland Action Against Poverty involved that anyone listened.

This looks bad on it’s own, but also suggests fundamental problems in Work and Income. If one person has their wrongly benefit stopped twice there seems to be a good chance similar is happening to others – potentially many others.

Ministry of Social Development group general manager of client service delivery Kay Read said the woman had received an apology.

“We’re sorry, we made a mistake.”

Ms Read said the woman did the right thing by telling Work and Income about her change of circumstances.

“This was then entered by one of our staff into our system without us having a conversation with her to actually learn more about the situation.”

Because the woman still had two children in her care, who were born while she was on the sole parent benefit, Ms Read said she should have transferred on to a jobseeker benefit, but that didn’t happen.

“We should’ve had the conversation… and explained that if we’d taken the time, either phoned her or talk with her at the time she dropped that in, we would’ve understood her circumstances in much greater detail and in fact we wouldn’t have had to adjust anything.”

The mistake was caught before the woman missed a payment, Ms Read said.

But the woman said having her benefit suspended twice has made her question how worthwhile it is to be honest with Work and Income.

Not being honest could end up with much worse repercussions.

It’s hard enough on beneficiaries having to report things like dates, but made far worse when Wirk and Income punish them (wrongly) for being honest.

The government has promised major changes to the culture at Work and Income, as part of its overhaul of the welfare system.

This looks overdue. It could be difficult getting the balance right. Having to report things like social contacts seems oppressive, but I doubt a no questions asked approach to benefit payments will be acceptable either.

Eligibility for benefits needs to be simple, clear and fair.

More punitive policy from National

National are rattling off policies that seem more intent on targeting voter demographics and ignoring evidence based approaches to issues.


National will help more young people become drug free, move off the benefit and get a job to help ensure they reach their potential.

“Most of our young people are doing incredibly well. There are more job opportunities and more support than ever in our country, as a result of our strong economic growth,” Social Development Spokesperson Anne Tolley says.

“But some young people on a benefit need more support. National is committed to helping them into work to ensure they can stand on their own two feet.”

National will invest $72 million over the next four years to support beneficiaries under 25 years of age by:

  • Guaranteeing work experience or training for those who have been on a jobseekers benefit for six months or longer, and financial management training to help them develop financial responsibility
  • Providing rehabilitation services if drug use is identified as a barrier to employment
  • Ensuring all young people under 25 who are on a job seekers benefit receive intensive one-on-one case management to get a job.

“Only 10 per cent of young people who go on a jobseekers benefit stay for more than six months – but for those that do, their average time on benefit is almost 10 years,” Mrs Tolley says. “We want to invest early, and give them one on one support so they can develop the skills they need to move into the workforce.

“We will guarantee them access to work experience or training courses designed specifically to get them ready for work.

“In addition, one in five beneficiaries tell us that drug use is a barrier to them getting a job – so we are increasing the support we give them to kick drug use and get work ready.”

National will also place obligations on those who do not take up the significant opportunities available in New Zealand to start work or training.

A contentious component of this policy:

Job seekers without children who refuse work experience or training or recreational drug rehabilitation will lose 50 per cent of their benefit entitlement after four weeks of not meeting their obligations, with further reductions if that continues. This will also apply to those who continue to fail recreational drug tests, where these are requested by prospective employers.

The lower benefit payments will only be able to be used for essential needs such as rent and food – like we currently do with our Money Management programme for 16 to 19 year olds.

Lower benefits for drug addicts is also likely to result in them committing more crime to feed themselves and their habit.

“This significant extra support we are announcing today will come with obligations and personal responsibilities, so those who won’t take the opportunities available to them will lose all or part of their benefit until they take steps to turn their lives around.

“We know benefit sanctions are an effective tool to help people into work, as 95 per cent of people who receive a formal warning meet their obligations within four weeks.”

Any benefit reductions will be made at the discretion of WINZ staff, to take account of individual circumstances. And once individuals decide to meet their obligations, benefits will be reinstated.

“New Zealanders are creating real opportunities for themselves and for New Zealand, through hard work and a commitment to doing better. National supports those efforts and is focused on helping all New Zealanders get ahead, even our most vulnerable,” Mrs Tolley says.

The Drug Foundation has concerns about the punitive approach to dealing with drug addiction.

RNZ: New sanctions could push young beneficiaries to P

Putting further sanctions on young beneficiaries who use drugs could push them from cannabis to methamphetamine because it’s harder to detect, the Drug Foundation warns.

if an under-25 year old, with no children, refused to do work experience and training, or continued to fail drug tests, their benefit would be halved after four weeks of not meeting obligations.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said that risked unintended consequences.

“Drug testing can encourage people to move away from using easy to detect drugs like cannabis, to harder to detect drugs like methamphetamine,” he said.

Mr Bell argued the policy failed to take into account the stages of beating chronic drug dependency.

“Drug dependency is a chronic and relapsing condition, so people might be in recovery, but they might slip – they might fall off the wagon. Is the government going to sanction them for something that seems to be a natural part of the drug recovery process?”

Figures provided to the Drug Foundation by the Ministry of Social Development showed that of the more than 100,000 beneficiaries who failed to meet some sort of obligation in the year to the end of June 2016, just 144 of those failures were to do with drugs.

So it is a relatively small part of the problem.

Benefit advocate Kay Brereton said while the focus on young people was great, it was hard to build their trust when the threat of sanctions loomed large.

“When people’s benefits get sanctioned, they’ve got this choice between ‘do I have somewhere to live or do I eat food’. I think for the young people we’re talking about, they will choose to have food and they will have nowhere to live. They may end up couchsurfing.

“Do you want to hire someone who doesn’t even have stable accommodation – are they going to still be in the same city next week?”

But National social development spokesperson Anne Tolley said sanctions worked.

“Ninety-five percent comply, but then you know it’s a personal choice for people. Very few turn up looking for social housing, but the numbers are very small,” she said.

Addiction is not really a ‘personal choice’. It is more of a medical condition, and punitive penalties are unlikely to address that effectively.

Using beneficiaries and drug addicts to try and attract a few votes seems a silly and cynical approach, but that’s what National has been tending to do more of as they try to hold onto power.

This is disappointing. National are looking increasingly undeserving of being returned to power.

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.


Green hero now a liability?

A week or two Metiria Turei was riding on a surge of Green support after she admitted lying in relation to getting a benefit in the 1990s. She says it was necessary “to feed my child”, and also to enable her to study for a law degree. She later said she should also have been able to have some fun after asked about standing for Parliament in 1993 and 1996.

With Labour languishing it seems that the Greens poached a chunk of their support, and all was looking great for the Greens, with hopes they would get ahead of NZ First and possibly even challenge Labour for the second biggest party prize.

That bubble of ambition appeared to have been burst when Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour leadership and sucked up all the media attention. And Ardern threatens to compete with a similar demographic that Turei appeals to.

A shaken looking Turei had a meeting with MSD yesterday to discuss her benefit transgressions – she had already said she will pay back any money she fiddled out of the system.

And then a double whammy last night when a reality check Newshub poll showed that 73.9% of people responded yes to ‘Was it wrong for Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit?’, including 51% of Green supporters.

Newshub also asked questions about Turei’s living arrangements while she was claiming a benefit. She had already admitted lying about having flatmates, but has now conceded that for two years one of those flatmates was her mother.

“I also wish to confirm that my mother was my flatmate for a period during the mid-1990s.

“We were financially independent while living together in the same home.”

Newshub also showed that she shared an address for two years with the father of her child,

“I did not live at the same address as the father of my child.

“I was, however, enrolled to vote at the same address as him, which was in the Mt Albert electorate. A friend of mine was running as a candidate in Mt Albert in 1993, and I wished to vote for them.

Technically that appears to be an offence under the Electoral Act.

“That was a mistake – one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person”.

It is now apparent that Turei was making a number of deliberate’ legal mistakes, at the same time she was studying for a law degree.

Two weeks ago Turei even went international with her story. In The Guardian: I told a lie to claim benefits. Now I am an MP and I want to tell you why

‘A lie’ seems to be somewhat understating what she did over several years.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

Many sole parents do get by – with financial difficulty for sure, but they manage.

Still not clarified is what her daughter’s father was doing to provide for and support his child, if anything.

Turei is now claiming that this examination of her past and her ‘private life’ (that was publicly funded) is a reason why benefits have to be much higher and no questions should be asked.

But she has been a politician for 15 years, and should have known that if she used her personal story for political purposes, in an election campaign, it would likely attract some scrutiny.

The Greens have promoted their integrity. In June Turei posted on Facebook:

Todd Barclay’s actions damage the relationship between the public and the politicians elected to represent them. The Green Party wants to be part of a government you can trust and already have policies in place to show we are more than just talk.

She has deliberately revealed aspects of her past that she should have known had risks, and it now threatens the relationship between the Greens and the public.

So far co-leader James Shaw has supported her beneficiary campaign…

Turei’s co-leader James Shaw said he was proud of Turei for coming forwards.

“We actually treat poor people in this country terribly, and the law is an ass, in this case,” Shaw said.

…but there must be growing concerns in the Green camp after yesterdays developments.


The Turei show continues

Metiria Turei and media have ensured her confession about benefit fraud and her campaign for beneficiaries stayed as one of the biggest political stories.

Turei has advised that the Ministry of Social Development has been in touch with her after she wrote to them, and she will be interviewed next week.

She continued with her focus on beneficiaries in Parliament yesterday.

And media have widened the scope of their questions, including whether her daughter’s father was a flatmate, and what part if any the  father had in her support – Turei said this was a private matter.

As a press release from the Green Party:  Statement from Metiria Turei on MSD

“Today, I have spoken over the phone with an investigator from the Ministry of Social Development.

“I was phoned by this person after their office received a letter from me (attached), which I sent on Monday.

“The letter asserted my willingness to co-operate fully with an investigation into the period of time I received a benefit during the 1990s, and I confirmed that over the phone today.

“During our phone call, I made myself available to be interviewed about my case.

“We are in the process of confirming the details of that meeting, but it will take place next week.”

Patrick Gower: Conviction for fraud could see Metiria Turei quit Parliament

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei could be forced to quit Parliament if she is convicted of benefit fraud.

“While benefit fraud is legislated under the Social Security Act, we generally prosecute under the Crimes Act,” a spokeswoman for Ministry of Social Development told Newshub.

The charges usually used are:

  • Obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception (punishable by up to three years imprisonment)
  • Dishonestly taking or using document (punishable by up to seven years imprisonment)

Under the Electoral Act, if an MP is convicted of a crime punishable with a sentence of more than two years, they have to leave Parliament.

Ms Turei lied to get more money, and it goes back to when her daughter Piupiu was born. She says she had no other option, although she did have time to campaign for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996.

Ms Turei was on the Domestic Purposes Benefit from 1993 until 1998. In three flats during that time, she lied about how many flatmates she had to get extra money.

My guess is that she will pay any money deemed to have been overpaid to her back but she won’t be prosecuted.

NZ Herald: Metiria Turei explains silence on flatmates in fraud case

In a sit-down interview with the Herald, Turei said she couldn’t condemn people who were faced with hard choices because of financial hardship.

“We have a system that leaves people with too few choices. That the only choices are bad ones. Not to pay the rent, not to pay the power bill, not to have enough food for your kids. Or, lie to WINZ and keep a secret.”

There is also the choice to work to supplement your income, or to live in a relationship with someone who contributes to your costs of living.

Metiria Turei won’t say whether one of the flatmates she failed to tell Work and Income about was a boyfriend – saying the state has no right to investigate a woman’s intimate personal life.

Actually the state does have a right under law to question whether someone claiming a sole parent benefit is living with a partner or not, and whether they are being supported by a partner. This is fundamental to how benefits are calculated and paid.

Asked if living with a partner without disclosing that to WINZ was more serious than failing to tell the agency about flatmates, Turei said it was treated differently by the agency.

“And one of the things that I will do if I get the chance is to fix that system so a woman’s personal life is not subject to questions by WINZ, by MSD. We have seen a lot of that directed at solo mums.

Currently a person stops being eligible for sole parent support if they are in a relationship.

Like it or not, that’s the rules now and it was when Turei was a beneficiary.

She said that the need to care for her baby and not her political beliefs led her to lie to Work and Income. Turei campaigned for the McGillicuddy Serious Party while receiving her benefit, and was a part of a theatre group.

“None of us had any money. I think that’s the thing – people on benefits are entitled to a life as well. They need the financial resources so they can pay the rent and put food on the table, they need a pathway out of welfare.

“But they also need to engage in the world, to be able to be with family, to have friends, to do other things, be politically engaged if that is what they choose. We shouldn’t have a benefit system that locks people out of their community.”

Some like Turei think that the state should fund a choice of lifestyle.

Others cut back on some of their social life when they have children, and when they are on a benefit.

Audrey Young:  Metiria Turei turns spotlight on her own failures

MSD investigators would not be doing their job if they did not ask whether one of the flatmates was a boyfriend living in a de facto relationship and whether they could talk to some of the flatmates.

That would elevate the issue from an overpayment to a more serious breach of the law. It is a simple question Turei has repeatedly failed to answer because she believes that the state is intruding on private lives.

On the other hand, she might discover that any offending is considered at the lowest level or that there was no offending at all because she was within the flatmate allowance.

But the actual offending and any debt has been of less concern to many of Turei’s critics than her attitude which has remained one of unswerving entitlement to break the law.

This is where Turei has got herself and her party into a quagmire from which it will be difficult to extricate itself.

Her sense of entitlement to break the law has invited a host of examples moral equivalents – hypothetical offending by other types of people, including say farmers, and other types of offending, including say tax fraud, in order to justify getting more money to feed the kids.

Many people starting small businesses suffer from financial hardship for some time, and it’s not uncommon to not pay taxes because there is a choice between that and feeding their families and paying basic bills.

But taxes shouldn’t be just waived for anyone who claims to be in financial hardship.

In the meantime, the focus is finally starting to turn away from Turei and towards the Greens’ new social welfare policy which is to remove sanctions and obligations from welfare recipients.

That includes women receiving sole parent support (the old Dpb) living with their boyfriends.

Under the Green Party policy, a man and woman can be living in a de facto relationship for three years with one of them working and earning and the other getting a benefit without losing the benefit.

There are not too many people who would see that as the fair application of a safety net.

Under that policy the state would need the right to investigate someone’s private circumstances, unless the Greens want it to operate on a trust system, where it’s leader says that breaking the law to get more benefit is justifiable.

Turei’s actions were designed to turn a spotlight on the failures of the system. They have instead turned the spotlight on her own failures as a politician.

This could become a quagmire for Turei and the Greens. I don’t know how well they thought this through before making an issue of it – I suspect some idealistic tunnel vision may have missed the possible jeopardy.

Turei condoning benefit fraud

I understand to an extent what Metiria is trying to do with her stand on benefit fraud. Many people on benefits really struggle financially, and that’s an issue that deserves attention. Sure she is trying to maximise votes in the upcoming election, but I believe she passionately believes she can do good for poor people.

But there are aspects of Turei’s agenda that I have real problems with, especially her condoning of benefit fraud.

Her own admission suggests more than a solo mother fibbing a bit to ‘feed her child’.

It happened over a three or five year period, which is sustained cheating.

It happened in three different flats – so when Turei got a new flat she chose to rent more rooms than she needed, with the implication that she was planning to rort the system several times.

From Stuff:  Greens co-leader Metiria Turei won’t report woman committing benefit fraud

At her party’s annual conference earlier this month Turei make a risky admission while launching a major policy to dismantle the Government’s welfare reforms, dramatically hike the benefit and remove nearly all sanctions and obligations to collect it.

Turei told party supporters she had lied about her living situation to Work and Income (WINZ) while she was collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

While she’s willing to pay the money back, Turei stands by her decision to commit benefit fraud, which she says she did in order to “take care of my baby”.

It doesn’t appear that it was simply a matter of not being to be able to by enough food one week so she got in a flatmate.

On Tuesday Turei confirmed she had met with a woman while travelling in the South Island last week who told her about a flatmate with a baby “who is doing exactly what I did”.

“She’s trying very hard to be the best Mum she can be but she isn’t telling WINZ about all her flatmates and I won’t condemn her.”

“I’ve had people come and disclose to me their circumstances and I’ll never abuse that trust. What I will do is fix the system so they never have to lie again.”

Turei said she is supporting this woman in trying to be “the best mother she can be” by defrauding the state.

This sounds like condoning wider benefit fraud, but Turei wants to do more than approve, she wants the slate wiped clean presumably for all levels of benefit fraud. In Parliament yesterday:

Metiria Turei: When so many stories of people being driven into poverty and despair by the broken welfare system have emerged in this last week, will she instruct the MSD to hold an amnesty for every current beneficiary—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Now we get to it.

Metiria Turei: —for every current beneficiary, so not me, Minister—so that they can talk to Work and Income about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member complete her question. It is a very long question.

Metiria Turei:—so that they can talk to Work and Income about their full entitlement without risking investigation or financial punishment?

She is proposing an amnesty for every current beneficiary, apparently no matter what level of fraud they may have committed, and no matter how desperate or calculated the fraud was.

From Mending the Safety Net – Metiria Turei’s speech to the Green Party 2017 AGM:

No beneficiary should have to live with the threat of losing the money the need for the rent.

So, the Green Party in government will immediately remove all financial sanctions and obligations that treat beneficiaries as criminals and second-class citizens.

That includes the sexist, punitive section 70A, which cuts women’s benefits if they can’t or won’t name the father of their child.

But also, the constant demands to prove you still have a disability, piles of job application rejections, having to get budget advice over and over because your winter power bill is too high, risking half your benefit if you miss your appointment because your child is sick.

And it includes the intrusive interrogation of a sole parent trying to find a life partner.

Under this government, sole parents, mostly women, are forced to reveal the most intimate details of their lives – who she’s sleeping with and how many times a week, under the threat of losing the money her and her kids rely on to pay the rent.

In my books, that’s discrimination. It’s persecution. And it’s wrong.

Women will no longer be threatened by WINZ simply because they are trying to form a loving relationship that benefits them and their children.

A good government, a decent government, does not use the threat of poverty as a weapon against the poor.  Not now, not ever – and under a Green Government, never again!

So no problem about fraud in the past and no questions asked in the future.

Turei has just spoken with Guyon Espiner on RNZ, that interview will be worth checking out further.

Espiner asks her about standing for Parliament twice during this period (for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis in 1996) but Turei says that beneficiaries should be able to have some fun.

Turei says that if benefits are generous enough fraud won’t be necessary to survive, and only serious cases will need to be dealt with.

I don’t think it is that clear cut or simple.

Turei means well, there are serious issues that deserve attention, but there are problems with what she is condoning and proposing.

Turei’s confession risk, but will it be effective?

Yesterday Metiria Turei confessed that as a beneficiary she lied to WINZ about having flatmates to get more benefit – she says it was necessary to support her and her daughter as she studied law at university.

There has been a big and a very mixed reaction.

I think that it’s fairly well known that fibbing to WINZ isn’t uncommon, over flatmates or over whether you are living alone or with a partner.

I doubt that Turei is at much risk of being investigated and prosecuted for something from twenty years ago.

She will no doubt be supported on this by her supporters.

It’s much harder to judge whether she will increase votes for the Greens. She could and probably will both pick up and lose votes.

The media reaction so far has been largely sympathetic and therefore positive.

Isaac Davidson: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud confession risky but effective

Turei’s personal story at least refocused attention onto what is an ambitious policy to address poverty in New Zealand. All benefits would be lifted by 20 per cent, beneficiaries would be able to earn more without being penalised, and the bottom tax rate would be cut.

So in the end, Greens spent their election-year conference talking not about Labour and NZ First, but about their core, defining issues – poverty and climate change. And that’s something that looked unlikely a few days ago.

Stacey Kirk: Metiria Turei makes a risky admission, politically and legally

She’s revealed that while she was a solo mother on the DPB, studying law and looking after a baby, she was also lying to her WINZ case worker about how many people she was flatting with, and so, what her accommodation costs actually were.

Turei says she has no idea how much she could be liable for, and whether or not the Ministry of Social Development could still launch an investigation, more than 20 years later.

Turei said she believes benefit dependency doesn’t exist, and very few set out to defraud the system – their circumstances, constructed by the state, give them little option.

The Greens co-leader’s story is one of determination and hard work, however. It would be a mean-spirited person who accused her of intentionally setting out to rip off taxpayers.

I think this is quite a contentious and complex issue. It is very tricky territory effectively approving of what she did as not ripping off the taxpayer.

As far as the party is concerned, this speaks to their core base. Where the Greens have tried for years to downplay their most left of leanings, play up their economic credentials, some core Greenies may have been getting concerned at just what the modern Green caucus was prepared to give up to get into Government.

The danger, however, will be whether this does work to scare some Labour voters – cautious of an alliance that could alienate most of middle New Zealand.

In Turei’s startling admission and vow, to significantly bolster the role of the welfare state, she’s counting on New Zealanders to not only voice concern over inequality, but to collectively do something about it that may go against the nature of their very core.

She’s effectively drawing an ideological line in the sand and asking New Zealanders: “Which side are you on?”

I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s very tricky suggesting that if you are hard up then breaking the law is justified.

Is burglary justified for poor people? A key difference is that one is just defrauding ‘the state’, while the other adversely impacts on individual people.

But it’s the kids that cop the consequences

A difficult situation was raised on The Nation this morning – a policy where mothers who don’t name the father of their children gets less benefit.

The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Andrew Becroft

Lisa Owen: Well, seeing as we’re talking about benefits, there is more than 13,000, and they’re mainly women, who are currently getting their benefits docked because they name or won’t name the father of their child. That equates to 17,000 children who are missing out because that money’s not in the benefit every week. Do you think that that is a policy that puts kids at the centre?

Andrew Becroft: No. I don’t. In fact, we gave to this government three, what we thought, were doable improvements that would improve the position of children at the most disadvantaged end. That was one of them – to remove that obligation.

Lisa Own: So, you believe that those sanctions – because there’s an opportunity to do it, as that piece of legislation is under review – so you do you think that they should can that? That it’s too punitive for kids?

Andrew Becroft: In principle, I don’t think it’s child-centred or child-focused. And whatever the rationale for it, it disadvantages kids and it’s not good for children.

If the welfare of the children is paramount, then this seems a draconian and punitive policy that is certain to adversely affect the kids.

Of course children not knowing who their father is is not a great situation either.

Neither is it good that fathers don’t take responsibility for the care and provision of their children.

On Thursday the Herald had an article about this with an eye raising example:  Sanction hurting solo mums by reducing benefit for not naming father

Parents who don’t legally identify the other parent have $22 deducted every week for each child. A further $6 per family is added if it continues for over 13 weeks.

Auckland woman Stephanie, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, can’t prove the father of five of her 10 children. She gets $116 deducted from her benefit every week.

Wow on both counts – the lack of proof of fatherhood of 5 of ten children, and the $116 deduction.

She said the father of four of her children has denied he is their parent. The 33-year-old is currently pursuing court action to get a paternity test. The father of her youngest child claimed he hasn’t had the birth registration papers delivered to his house for him to sign.

Stephanie said it was like the Government was punishing her and her children, when the blame sat with the fathers.

Instead it was her and her babies that went without food and clothing and struggled to make ends meet.

“Caring for them isn’t hard, but financially it is. We can’t afford heaps of things.

A certain amount of the blame is certainly with the fathers. A father should take responsibility for the care of their children, full stop.

But I don’t like the threat of a reduction of a benefit being used as stick to try to force revealing who the parent is. It shouldn’t have to come to this (parents’ responsibility), but it is also not a good way to deal with it.

But a mother who has 10 children with what sounds like at least three fathers has to take a big dollop of responsibility too.

Men have to take some responsibility for birth control if they have sex.

But the ultimate responsibility has to be with the mother. Once a woman becomes pregnant it can be her sole responsibility whether she has the baby or not.

I think it’s fair to question the responsibility of having ten children and relying on the benefit to support them. It seems an extraordinary situation.

The mother has to take some responsibility for being a solo parent – as do the fathers.

A Ministry of Social Development spokeswoman said the policy was introduced in 1990 to encourage the other parent to take responsibility and contribute to the cost of raising their child.

“If a person does not apply for Child Support or identify the other paying parent, their benefit rate will be reduced.”

The spokeswoman said an exemption can be granted for reasons such as family violence concerns, the pregnancy being a result of sexual violation and insufficient evidence being available to establish who the other parent is.

But Cole said an exemption was difficult to obtain and meant the beneficiary had to disclose their sexual history to a lawyer and then retell that story in an open-plan Winz office.

I think that’s putting sole parents in an awful situation.

But some people – both mothers and fathers – put their children in awful situations through a lack of responsibility, restraint or contraception.

This is something that has no easy solutions. The kids are the ones who will suffer – from a lack of money and from a lack of parent.