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Report on underpayment of beneficiaries shocks

Report on underpayment of beneficiaries shocks Citizens Advice Bureau

NZACAB is shocked at the findings of a recent report showing that Department of Work (DWI) & Income owes almost one billion dollars to low-income families and beneficiaries in backpayments, and that currently over 176,000 New Zealand households are not receiving their full benefit entitlements.

The report, Still Missing Out, by Wellington's Downtown Community Ministry, is based on the Work & Income's own figures, obtained under the Official Information Act, and shows that two thirds of New Zealand households receiving the basic accommodation supplement are missing out on their full benefit entitlements.

"Over 176,000 of the poorest households in the country are not receiving help to which they are entitled. There are about 225,000 children - a quarter of all the children in New Zealand - in these households," says Chief Executive Rachael Le Mesurier.

Department of Work & Income figures show that on average each of these households is missing out on $22 a week, over $1,100 a year. In Auckland, where the cost of living is higher than the rest of the country, the average annual deficit for households is around $2,000 a year.

"This report highlights the huge underpayment of entitlements that Citizens Advice Bureaux and other community organisations have been aware of since the 1991 benefit cuts. Bureaux from around the country see many beneficiary and low-income households struggling to meet the basic costs of living because they have not received their full entitlements," says Ms Le Mesurier. "We know that this is a problem nationally, but these figures expose the full extent of the problem.

"CAB's typical experience is illustrated by an Auckland father, with a teenager, receiving $290 a week from DWI. He pays $225 of this to Housing NZ and another $10 loan repayment back to DWI. The remaining $55 goes no way towards covering food and power. Based on the level of rent alone, this father is entitled to a special benefit."

CAB wants the Government to take immediate action to ensure all households get their full entitlements.

"The first step must involve the Department immediately revising its practice so that those who it knows should qualify for a Special Benefit are immediately granted one. Equally, the Department must pay the $200 million owed in the current financial year and begin repayment of the billion dollars by first cancelling any debt owed to the department by beneficiaries. CAB will be advising beneficiaries to go into their local DWI office and ask for a review of their entitlements.

"This would mean that New Zealand families will afford a healthy diet, to heat their homes in winter and to have their kids participate in school outings and sports."

For further information contact Rachael Le Mesurier, 382 8759 (wk), 025 627 0194; Glenda McCallum, Communications Officer, 04 382 8759 (wk), 04 382 9466 (hm); or Ross Bell, Social Policy & Information Officer, 04 382 8759 (wk), 025 294 9722.


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