Winston’s partner problem

Winston Peters was found by a High Court judge to have contributed to an unclearly filled out form and an incorrect amount of Super being paid to him for seven years.

The judge found it was a mistake and not deliberate deception on Winston’s part (I think that’s a fair assessment on the evidence available), but I think it was quite careless, on three counts.

The incorrectly completed form

The question is: Do you have a partner?

To the left of the question is this text:

Partner

Q26 note: A partner is your spouse (husband or wife), your civil union partner, or a person of the same or opposite sex with whom you have a de facto relationship.

We need partner information even if your partner is not being included because it affects your rate of pay.

Whether or not Peters read the clarifying note,  I think that most people would regard a person they were currently living with in a de facto relationship as their partner, and not someone who they had lived with at some time in the past, whether still legally married to them or not.

The judge found:

At the time, Mr Peters was living separate and apart from his former wife (they were not divorced). His answer to the subsidiary question was therefore literally correct. He was living apart/separated from his wife. But he had a partner, Ms Trotman. The form, as completed, was actually incomplete as the primary No/Yes response was not completed. The form should not have been processed as it stood. Mr Peters should have completed the primary question, and Ms S should have asked him to complete the answer to the primary question, rather than leaving it incomplete.

I won’t argue with “literally correct” from a legal point of view, but from a social point of view it seems quite wrong.

I can’t imagine Peters introducing Jan Trotman in a social setting as “this is who I’m shacked up with, but the person I left x years ago and haven’t gotten around to divorcing yet is literally my partner’.

According to this article “Trotman has always been protective of her privacy. When the couple bought their three-level five-bedroom St Marys Bay villa in 2008” – so they had been partners at least two years before the Super application.

Peters made another mistake on the form in two later questions:

33. Do you want to include your partner in your New Zealand Superannuation?

34. Is your partner receiving a current benefit?

The judgement says:

Mr Peters had ticked “No” in response to both questions but then the tick has been crossed out and “Yes” has been ticked.

I accept the evidence of Ms S that Mr Peters must have crossed them out. I do not place any weight on the fact they were not initialled as the other alterations to the form were initialled. Mr Peters’ attempted reliance during cross-examination on the fact he had not initialled the alterations to suggest the form could have been filled in by Ms S, not him, was a clear case of post fact reasoning and contrary to his earlier evidence-in-chief when he said he had completed the questions in issue.

Peters had tried to blame the WINZ staff member for this. It was inconsequential but another mistake.

In summary, an error was made in the completion of the application form. The error arose because Mr Peters did not fully complete question 26 and Ms S did not require Mr Peters to complete the answer to the primary question in question 26. Mr Peters’ apparent failure to read the explanatory note to question 26 which set out the definition of partner contributed to the error. The combination of errors led to Mr Peters receiving NZS at a higher rate than he was otherwise entitled to.

You only get to apply for Super once in your lifetime so I think most people would take care to get things right. Peters got more than one thing wrong. It just seems careless.

Not noticing he was being paid more than he was entitled for seven years 

I think that most people applying to get a significant amount of money regularly for the rest of their lives will work out what they expect to receive. And if they end up getting something different to that amount, they would find out why.

Peters may have not checked it out and may not have cared how much he got, but I think that seems quite unusual.

The current difference (it would have been less but proportional in 2010) per fortnight after tax (what you see credited to your account) is $782.44 (live with someone 18 or older) and $652.04 (a couple when only one of you meets the criteria for NZ Super and you don’t include your partner in your payments). This presumes Peters wasn’t being paid at the higher rate which is currently $847.66 (live alone or with dependent child).

I think most people would notice that sort of difference in amount.

Disregarding or not understanding a letter after four years asking him to confirm his status

On 18 March 2014, the MSD sent a standard letter to Mr Peters which included a request that asked him to check the
following details:

Relationship Status:     You are single.
Your living situation:    You are not living alone.

Mr Peters did not respond to the letter. He has no recollection of it but accepts he would have received it. He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances.

This sounds contradictory.   I don’t know how Peters can have no no recollection of the letter, but can remember what he understood about the letter (past tense).

If Mr Peters had paid more attention to the letter, he would have realised there was an issue with the MSD’s records regarding his initial application.

The judge appears to assume Peters did see the letter but didn’t pay enough attention to it. If Peters did pay any attention it should have been obvious that “You are single.” was incorrect. There’s no way of knowing what Peters actually did or thought pr paid attention to, and it seems he can’t be relied on to be accurate (it was five years before the trial so most memories would struggle with one letter).

Mistakes were made by a number of people, but multiple mistakes were made by Peters filling the form out in 2010, and again with the letter in 2014 (at least a mistake of ignoring it or not paying attention to it).

Not noticing the incorrect amount for seven years may have just been someone with more money than they need already getting a bit more off the taxpayer and not caring how much it actually was.

I’m sure I would be quite unpopular with someone if I referred to someone I had separated from some years ago as my partner.

NZ Super and our rapidly ageing population

It’s February already. As you get older time seems to go faster, which means we feel like we are ageing more rapidly. One way to combat this is to watch all speeches in Parliament (replays if the House isn’t in session), so that time slows down to a long drag.

But this is a diversion from what this post is about. Read this instead:

Dr M. Claire Dale (Newsroom): Time to address our rapidly ageing population

The Retirement Commissioner has a statutory obligation to produce a report on retirement income policies every three years. This year’s review has had little fanfare so far and the terms of reference have only just been released. The report is expected by December 2019, which allows little time to properly examine the pressing issue of suitable policies for our rapidly ageing population.

In line with this Government’s emphasis on wellbeing and sustainability, the terms of reference stress that the review must assess “the effectiveness of current retirement policies for financially vulnerable and low-income groups, and recommendations for any policies that could improve their retirement outcomes”.

With respect to retirement income policies – the crux of the review – an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Social Development revealed that more than 41,000 of people receiving New Zealand Superannuation also need the Accommodation Supplement to pay their private rental costs. They join with the other 249,000 people receiving the supplement, costing the Government more than $27 million a week. This suggests both that NZS is inadequate and private rents are too high.

We have been encouraged to save for our retirements to supplement NZ Super for a long time.

Critically important topics include the impact of current retirement income policies on current and future generations, and the fiscal sustainability of current NZS settings. An ageing population means a shrinking number of working-age people to support a growing number of old and increasingly frail people, which imposes obvious fiscal challenges.

And political challenges.

National under John Key and Bill English refused to address the age of eligibility of NZ Super.

Labour proposed Super changes leading into the 2014 election but were hammered from the left so dropped them by 2017.

NZ First secured a ‘no change’ clause in their coalition agreement with Labour.

The international environment needs to be brought into any discussion of these topics, as many countries, including Australia, have already increased their qualifying age for the pension above 65 and are in the process of increasing it further. Any discussion of this needs to recognise that not all sectors of the population have the option or ability to work past 65.

Or in some cases up to 65. United Future secured an agreement from National to look in to ‘flexi-super’ where you could choose the age you started receiving Super, but that turned out to be a farce as National had no intention of actually changing anything.

The hope is that this time the review is substantial, its recommendations are debated widely, and the Government has the courage to introduce policies appropriate for a rapidly ageing population.

I doubt that will happen. Winston Peters is likely to stand fast opposing any change unless it is for more Super for his voters. And Labour is likely to keep it in it’s ‘not a priority’ basket (or under their ‘ignore’ carpet).

 

English open about superannuation

In an interview on The Nation this morning Bill English said that he won’t make the same undertaking that John Key did not change national superannuation.

However Newshub has taken it further, suggesting that a non-commitment at this stage meant that things could change.

All it means is that English isn’t ready to reveal his and National’s preference on super but he said he would be clear about it before the election.

Newshub: Bill English won’t make same superannuation promise as John Key

His predecessor John Key famously said he’d resign if he tightened eligibility for the benefit, which every Kiwi over the age of 65 can receive, regardless of their income or wealth.

Mr English told The Nation it was the right call to make at the time.

“People didn’t have to worry through tough times about what was going to happen.”

But with Mr Key’s departure, the fiscally conservative new Prime Minister says it’s a chance to “reset” expectations, with an aging population and more people working into their late 60s.

“I haven’t made the same undertaking as John, so we have the opportunity for a bit of a reset there.”

That could mean English won’t make any hard and fast commitment, or he could. Newshub chose to promote one option.

Changes to superannuation could be on the cards.

Talking to Three’s The Nation, Prime Minister Bill English said people need to know what’s happening before the election, hinting there could be tweaks made.

But whether that means a change to the age of eligibility or its annual indexing to wages, he won’t say.

“You’ll just have to wait and see. We would not anticipate any drastic changes.”

So this is pretty much non-news at this stage.

“People deserve to know what the Government’s view is when they go to the polls.”

So we should find out by then. Newshub speculation is meaningless.

And any views expressed by National or Labour before the election may be meaningless on superannuation anyway.

If either party requires NZ First to form a ruling coalition then any changes to super entitlements are likely to be off the negotiating table as a bottom line. It would be heresy if Winston Peters gave ground on pensions.

So regardless of what National or Labour say about super before the election voters won’t know if anything could change or not until after the election.

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Peters and Key kick Super discussion in the guts

Winston Peters and John Key have double kicked cross-party hopes of a sensible discussion on National superannuation in the guts.

Winston Peters was asked whether NZ First’s position that the super age should remain at 65 was likely to be an issue in such talks

“Of course it’s a bottom line.”

Mr Peters has rejected Labour’s calls for cross-party talks on the issue and he said Labour had made a terrible mistake with its super policy.

“If I was advising them on a political level I would ask them, how does this work?

“You’re sending out a dog whistle to a future voting group but you are not addressing the problem here and now. The here and now is an economic solution.”

NZ Herald: NZ First’s bottom line for super: 65

There have been growing calls for cross-party and outside parliament discussions on the future of NZ Super, so making bottom statements on the 2014 election are very disappointing.

And John Key, already in a self imposed instransigent Super position, has raised the politicking when the country needs leadership in the opposite direction.

“This is my challenge to Winston Peters. I dare him to go out there and say he will not under any conditions form a Government with Labour even if Labour’s policy is to raise the super age from 2020, not in the three-year period from 2014 to 2017.

“I dare him to say that. He will not… because he’s tricky,” Mr Key said.

Key can ill-afford raising trickiness regarding superannuation.

Ironically in the interview with TV3…

Prime Minister John Key is not ruling out working with New Zealand First in the future, saying he will spell out potential partners ahead of the next election.

National and New Zealand First may be the only parties refusing to address the possiblility that the baby boom will become a Super boom and bust.
This is my challenge to John Key – and Winston Peters – to take the growing concerns of many groups, parties and people on the future of NZ Super seriously, and to put aside their self bound straightjackets of no change and no discussion.
Key and Peters have given the Super discussion a bit of a kick in the guts, but a growing number of people have had a gutsful of this sort of politicking when serious leadership is called for.

Sorting out Super – what now?

We should start the discussion now. National may choose to stay out of it for now, but they will have to join at some stage.

Suggested progress:

  • Involve all willing parties and any groups and organisations with an interest in the future of NZ Super in discussion and proposal of policies.
  • Open it to wide public discussion.
  • Gather as much information and opinion as possible.
  • National and United Future have a Confidence and Supply commitment to public discussion on flexi-super – this can be used to develop the Super debate further.
  • In time for next election campaign have a commitment from all (willing) parties on the future direction of NZ Super and a timeframe for dealing with it.
  •  Include NZ Super in parliamentary business early in the next term (first half of 2015)

Let’s make it happen. Starting now.

 

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NZ Super Discussion is an open forum to discuss the future of NZ Super.

Many parties, organisations and individuals have been calling for a discussion on the future affordability and age availability of NZ Super. This blog is a means of doing that.

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