Has Turei paid back the WINZ money?

Metiria Turei promised to pay back the money she received (allegedly fraudulently) from Work and Income NZ (WINZ) in the 1990s. The self revelation blew up on Turei in July 2017 and led to her resignation as Green party leader, and her decision to withdraw from the Green Party list. She stood in the Te Tai Tonga electorate and failed to win in the September election.

This came up on Reddit a couple of days ago: Did Turei ever pay back all that defrauded money?

The media just dropped the issue, and MSD basically pussyfooted around it. As someone that gets pinged now and then for earning $10 above the threshold of student allowance, seeing a government official getting away with clear fraud for tens of thousands of dollars makes me real sad for NZ.

Many of the comments in response diverted to other politician’s problems, in particular Bill English’s housing allowance issue in 2009. Despite as one person said “I thought “whataboutism” were frowned upon on this sub.” That’s nearly nine years ago, English paid money back, and was found to have checked and was told his arrangement was within the rules before it was publicised.

From RNZ in August 2017 – Timeline: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s downfall

This story was followed up by the herald last month (January 2018): Silence over Metiria Turei’s alleged benefit fraud investigation irks

Six months after Metiria Turei revealed her historic benefit fraud, neither she nor the Ministry of Social Development are commenting on the case – including whether the former MP has repaid the debt.

MSD launched an investigation in August after Turei – then the Green Party co-leader – said that she had received benefit payments she wasn’t legally entitled to while studying law as a solo mother in the 1990s.

Six months on and neither Turei or MSD are commenting.

Turei – who has previously said she would pay back any money she owed – didn’t respond to messages left by the Herald on Sunday and a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Development said it “will not and cannot” comment on individual cases.

Former Green Party member David Clendon, who along with Kennedy Graham resigned in protest at Turei’s actions, told the Herald there was a fine balance between the public interest and Turei’s privacy.

“I would expect there would be some sort of information that would come into the public domain if for no other reason than to retain the integrity of the system. Obviously there’s a huge public interest.”

Clendon was one of two Green MPs who had pulled their support for Turei and were not allowed to stand for the Greens after Turei resigned.

So this appears to remain an unresolved issue.

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.


Turei’s ‘secret from WINZ’

Metiria Turei announced Green social policy that includes large increases to benefits, plus what looks like a ‘no questions asked’ no investigation approach.

She has also tweeted something that has attracted interest:

I was a single mum, raising my beautiful girl Piupiu while doing my law degree & I was on the benefit. I still didn’t have enough to get by.

I was one of those women who you hear people complain about on talkback radio.

Because despite all the help I was getting, I could not afford to live, study and keep my baby well without keeping a secret from WINZ.

It was a stressful, terrifying experience.

There is something deeply, deeply wrong with our welfare system and how we treat the families who depend on it.

I know that if I don’t talk about what life is really like for beneficiaries, if the Green Party doesn’t, then who will?

From her speech today:

I was one of those women, who you hear people complain about on talkback radio.

Because despite all the help I was getting, I could not afford to live, study and keep my baby well without keeping a secret from WINZ.

Like many families who rely on a benefit, Piu and I moved around a lot when she was little.

We lived in five different flats with various people.

In three of those flats, I had extra flatmates, who paid rent, but I didn’t tell WINZ. I didn’t dare.

I knew that if I told the truth about how many people were living in the house my benefit would be cut.

And I knew that my baby and I could not get by on what was left.

This is what being on the benefit did to me – it made me poor and it made me lie.

It was a stressful, terrifying experience.

At any moment, WINZ could have caught me and cut off my benefit.

They could have charged me with fraud and made me a criminal as well.

I got through it, of course, as you can see.

Not everyone does.

More details:  Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admits she lied to WINZ, as party announces radical welfare reforms

In her biggest speech of the year, Turei made the extraordinary confession while announcing her party’s plans to dramatically reform New Zealand’s welfare system.

Speaking at the Green Party AGM in Auckland, she said that as a solo mother on a benefit she did not tell Work and Income NZ that she had extra flatmates who were paying rent.

At a press conference afterwards, Turei said she could still face consequences for her illegal behaviour 24 years ago.

“It is possible that WINZ could do an investigation into my case and I could be charged.

“I personally feel I have a responsibility to tell it how it is, because other people don’t have the privileged position that I do.”

Asked whether beneficiaries in a similar position should lie to authorities, she neither encouraged nor dissuaded them, saying that it was up to them.

And if Green policy gets accepted not up to WINZ to investigate. Wow.

The policy: “Green Party will lift families out of poverty”

Ardern and benefit fraud versus tax fraud

3 News report on a crack down on benefit fraud:

Five-hundred-twenty-five people have had their benefits cancelled after being caught cheating the system to the tune of $5.6 million a year.

In the past two months, WINZ officials have been calling beneficiaries after matching their data with the IRD. They’ve calculated that many paying high taxes are doing so for one reason: they also have a job.Almost half those called, 525, have been taken off their benefits and could face prosecution.

“But it is an issue,” says Ms Bennett. “It’s still fraud. You’re still ripping the taxpayer off and I think you should be held to account for it.”

But the 3 News item was headlined Focus should be tax fraud – Labour and quotes Jacinda Ardern…

“The Government is certainly putting more emphasis on welfare fraud than tax fraud,” says Labour MP Jacinda Ardern.

Labour says the $5.6 million saved is a drop in the bucket when compared with tax evasion.

Ardern provides no certainty that Government is “putting more emphasis on welfare fraud than tax fraud”. And Inland Revenue certainly seems serious about addressing tax fraud – see Report tax evasion or fraud anonymously

We are committed to targeting tax evasion and fraud. If you have information about tax evasion and fraud, you can report it to us anonymously by using this form. You will be helping keep our tax system fair for everyone.

The IRD website lists a number of fraud cases:

That’s about one and a half million dollars worth of tax fraud in four prosecutions.

It’s very odd for Ardern and Labour to defend one type of fraud. IRD are capable of investigating tax fraud at the same time that WINZ investigates welfare fraud.

Would Labour stop any investigations into welfare fraud?

UPDATE: Chester Borrows has just said on Firstline that over the past three budgets National has allocated $200 million to address tax fraud.