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Maharey Must Back Effort to Reduce Benefit Fraud

Maharey Must Back Effort to Reduce Benefit Fraud

Wednesday 18 Dec 2002 Dr Muriel Newman Press Releases -- Social Welfare

Complaints from a beneficiary advocacy group that WINZ's random visits to clients' homes are "invasive and intimidatory" should be disregarded, ACT New Zealand Social Welfare Spokesman Dr Muriel Newman said today.

"Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey caved in to advocacy groups when he limited the ability of WINZ to `cold call' people suspected of benefit fraud. He went against official advice in doing so and the result was a drop of tens of millions of dollars in the amount of fraud identified.

"Now it looks like he intends to stop these random WINZ visits which were meant to be a preventative measure to replace cold calling. Yet beneficiaries who are not breaking the law should have nothing to fear from such visits.

"Going soft on welfare fraud is just crazy. In our welfare dependent culture, benefit fraud is a very real and very serious problem. Taxpayers need to know that the safeguards are there to ensure that welfare is only available to those who really need it?

"That is especially important right now after the revelation last week that the leaders of a paua-smuggling ring, husband and wife Zhang Yuan Da and Zhong Hui Hong, were long term welfare beneficiaries. Picking up state benefits for 11 years while carrying out crime and having $800,000 stashed in the bank is an absolute indictment of the government's fraud detection ability. It would be outrageous to now go even softer on welfare fraud.

"The majority of people receiving welfare entitlements are not ripping off the taxpayer. But fraudsters undermine the integrity of the entire welfare system. They are committing a crime, and the Government has an obligation to detect their abuse and to prosecute them.

"Beneficiary advocates should be calling for tougher standards to ensure that the system is stronger for people who truly do need help. And the Minister should be backing his frontline WINZ staff to become more effective in detecting benefit fraud. With total welfare spending set to rise by about $1.5 billion in the next three years, the last thing we need is for Mr Maharey to show that he has no backbone," Dr Newman said.

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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