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Government Offers To Review Benefit Decisions

6AM, Friday 30 August 2002

Government Offers To Review Benefit Decisions

The Ministry of Social Development is offering to review more than 15,000 cases where people’s benefits were stopped and/or they had to pay back money because they were deemed to be living in a de facto relationship.

Announcing the review today, Associate Social Services and Employment Minister Ruth Dyson said an independent report by Auckland lawyer Frances Joychild showed that the ministry may not have used the correct legal test for de facto relationships between November 1996 and December 2000.

“In 1996, the Court of Appeal ruled that de facto relationships have two essential features – emotional commitment and financial interdependence. It also said that the effect of violence in a relationship must be taken into account when assessing these features.

“Frances Joychild’s report said that Work and Income did not implement this judgement consistently until the end of 2000, and that all relevant cases should be reviewed.

“The government’s decision to give people the opportunity to have their case reviewed if they think they were treated unfairly is a matter of natural justice.”

Ruth Dyson said that the National Government had made the situation more difficult by introducing legislation to overturn the Court of Appeal judgement, though it was never passed.

She said about 15,600 people fell into the target group for the review, and an advertising campaign would begin shortly.

“The campaign will include magazine advertising, posters, pamphlets, and personal letters to everyone in the target group who is currently on Work and Income’s database. We will also work closely with community organisations such as women’s refuges and beneficiary advocacy centres to ensure that all those who are eligible know about the review.”

Ms Dyson said it was difficult to know how many cases had been wrongly assessed.
Preliminary testing of 100 files showed that seven needed further investigation to confirm whether the correct legal test had been used.

“If, for example, one per cent of decisions are found to be wrong and reversed on review, the estimated cost of repaying benefits and cancelling debt is $3.6 million.”

Panels of three people (two senior ministry staff and an independent person) will be set up to review the cases, with a sample of decisions subject to independent audit. People whose cases have already been prosecuted in the district court or considered by the Social Security Appeal Authority will not be eligible for review.

Applications for review close on 15 December 2002. Application forms, and more information, can be obtained by phoning the ministry freephone 0800 88 44 48.

The Ministry of Social Development responded to the other recommendations in Ms Joychild’s report in March 2002. Both Ms Joychild’s report and MSD’s response are available on www.msd.govt.nz


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