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WINZ blunders on, and on, and on: Labour

2000 web siteA letter from Work and Income New Zealand outlining confidential information about money owed by a beneficiary has been sent to another beneficiary already involved in a dispute with WINZ over administrative blunders.

Labour social welfare spokesperson Steve Maharey said today that letter mix-up was the latest fiasco in a series of muck-ups by WINZ that reflected an organisation poorly lead and under stress.

"WINZ continues to spend thousands of dollars on flash advertising campaigns so Christine Rankin can tell the public the organisation is misunderstood. It would be far more appropriate to spend the money on adequately resourcing and supporting staff on the ground so they can better serve their clients," Mr Maharey said.

Mr Maharey said his office had received so many letters in recent weeks detailing WINZ failures that he had written to the Minister in charge of the service, Roger Sowry, asking for action to be taken.

In the latest case, a New Plymouth woman involved in a dispute with WINZ over alleged debt has found herself privy to someone else's confidential benefit information.

The woman concerned was forced onto a benefit after being made redundant. She took temporary work whenever she could and made every effort to inform WINZ when her circumstances changed as a result of that work.

She said that meeting WINZ requirements often led to her spending an inordinate amount of time calling the organisation's 0800 line only to be put on hold. She gave information willingly and regularly but usually to a different person each time who had little idea about her individual circumstances. She said it appeared the correct information often didn't get through. WINZ is now challenging her for a debt of nearly $3,500.

WINZ management told the woman that its computer system did not make mistakes. However a subsequent letter demanding payment of the debt included a letter outlining the debt owed by another beneficiary - a woman from Hamilton.

"Unfortunately this is not an isolated case," Mr Maharey said.

"Earlier this week it was revealed a Wanganui woman received WINZ correspondence that should have been sent to a man in Auckland Prison. And earlier this year WINZ was in the spotlight for revealing to a beneficiary the name of a workmate who had dobbed him in for alleged benefit fraud.

"It makes it incredibly difficult for anyone to have faith in the system," Mr Maharey said.

"WINZ should apologise immediately and unreservedly to both women involved in the latest incident, and every effort should be made to settle the ongoing dispute without recourse to threatening letters."

Mr Maharey reminded WINZ of a recent Court of Appeal decision, which quashed the convictions of a beneficiary who had been prosecuted for receiving a benefit despite telling authorities she had a job.

"WINZ's combative approach is a direct reflection of the nasty and vindictive attitude of the current Government towards beneficiaries and should be condemned.

"Beneficiaries should not be treated as second class citizens, nor should they be assumed to be guilty before having to prove their innocence.

"Until WINZ can prove itself to be perfect how can it demand the same standard of its clients," Mr Maharey said.

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