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Beneficiaries and superannuitants to keep payouts

18 March 2001 Media Statement

Beneficiaries and superannuitants to keep power trust payouts

Dividend payouts by community owned power lines trusts, which have been worth between $520 and $1,060, will be able to be kept by beneficiaries and superannuitants who get supplementary benefits with no impact on their incomes, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey announced today.

A number of power trusts have announced their intention to pay dividends to the account holders living within their distribution areas. Under current welfare rules these dividends are required to be included in income calculations, meaning some beneficiaries and superannuitants would see the level of benefits and supplementary payments paid to them cut.

The Government has decided to introduce legislation later this year to exempt payments received from public utilities from treatment as income for social security purposes. This will harmonise the treatment of these payments with the rules about how they are treated for income tax purposes.

Mr Maharey said in the meantime he was establishing a Ministerial Welfare Programme to ensure that beneficiaries and superannuitants who receive power trust dividends will be able to keep the one-off payments without any impact on their eligibility for income assistance.

"Current benefit rules mean benefit and superannuation payments could be reduced because of these unexpected windfall payments. Given that all customers are equal owners of community utilities this would be unfair and the ad hoc and unpredictable nature of the payments means that it is unreasonable to expect beneficiaries and superannuitants to anticipate them and adjust their finances accordingly.

“The Auckland Energy Consumer Trust is paying a $520 dividend to power account holders this month. Potentially this payment could affect the level of benefits and supplementary assistance received by approximately 100,000 beneficiaries and superannuitants living in its catchment area. Waipa Networks Trust and Mainpower Trust have already made $605 to $1,060 payments which will also be covered by the Ministerial Welfare Programme.

“To ensure these payments will not affect benefit and superannuation incomes I am establishing a Ministerial Welfare Programme. Later this year I intend introducing legislation to Parliament which will give discretion to exempt these kinds of payments from treatment as income by Work and Income.

“Receiving an unexpected lump-sum cash payment is a good opportunity to help those on low incomes to buy essential items or to pay off debt,” Steve Maharey said.

ENDS

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