An Auckland mum who was told by Work and Income that her benefit had been cut because she'd been on two Tinder dates has had her payments wrongly suspended for a second time.
The Ministry of Social Development has apologised to the Auckland woman. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett
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.
"It was kind of a like a big muck around, very very stressful - yet again."
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.
"If I'm going to be brutally honest with you [Work and Income], and tell you obvious changes and they treat me like this, yeah I just won't be bothered."
Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Alastair Russell said Work and Income's treatment of the woman wasn't good enough.
"The fact that this woman has twice gone into Work and Income to tell them what her situation was, to do the right thing, and to be clobbered both times by benefit suspension is just completely unacceptable."
Mr Russell said immediate changes were needed.
"This should be a line in the sand where the Minister says this must end, it must end today."
The government has promised major changes to the culture at Work and Income, as part of its overhaul of the welfare system.