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Problems Remain With Special Benefit

Sunday 17 December 2000

Regional discrepancies in the granting of special benefits are unlikely to change as a result of new instructions issued to staff by the Department of Work and Income, National's Work and Income spokesperson Belinda Vernon said today.

Ms Vernon was commenting on a report by the Downtown Community Ministry and the Wellington People's Centre that there are significant regional differences in the granting of the special benefit. Variances highlighted include 20% of special benefit applications being granted in Wellington and only 1% granted in Rotorua.

In July the Downtown Community Ministry and the Wellington People's Centre claimed that 170,000 people were not receiving Special Benefit that they were 'entitled' to.

"Back in July the Minister said he would be 'quick to clarify' the situation. But the Minister has done nothing. Instead the Department has issued revised instructions to staff and the problem remains.

"The Special Benefit is discretionary. There is no 'entitlement' per se. The Ministerial Direction, which sets out how that discretion is to be administered, remains unchanged.

"There is just as much room for regional variances under the new instructions as the old. A lot has been made about the change from considering 'exceptional circumstances' to 'individual circumstances'. But the change does nothing to standardise interpretation of what that means. It is not clear how 'individual circumstances' should be interpreted.

"The implication is that the new instructions will make a difference. They won't.

"The new instructions from the Department are merely an attempt to hide the fact that the Minister has done nothing to clarify the confusion that was highlighted earlier in the year," Ms Vernon said.


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