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'De Facto' Definition Dangerous

'De Facto' Definition Dangerous

Due to a 1996 Court of Appeal ruling that de facto relationships have two essential features - emotional commitment and financial interdependence - the Ministry of Social development are now offering to review 15,600 cases where people's benefits were stopped and/or they had to pay money back because they may have been wrongly deemed to be in a de facto relationship. The ruling also said the effect of violence must be taken into account when assessing these features. An advertising campaign will be launched including magazine advertising, posters, pamphlets and personal letters.

"I am not sure that the public will realize what a dangerous can of worms the Ministry might be opening," says Lindsay Mitchell, petitioner for a Parliamentary review of the DPB. "What are these advertisements going to say? That if you are living with someone who is not financially or emotionally supporting, who is possibly controlling you with violence, then you will be eligible for a benefit? What sort of message is this sending?"

"One of the few decent intentions behind the DPB was that it provide temporary support for a mother to escape a violent relationship. In the wake of legally redefining a de facto relationship we are saying we will pay a mother (or possibly a father) to stay in such a situation. This is hardly in the interests of the children."

Mitchell notes, "In addition to the 15,600 cases the Ministry is offering to review, there are between four and five thousand people who apply for the DPB every year who are turned down, presumably because in many cases the parent is deemed to be in a de facto relationship. This group will now have every reason to re-apply for a benefit. "

"The Associate Minister, Ruth Dyson, put the cost of reversing just one percent of the 15,600 decisions at $3.6 million. Why did she choose one percent? Because it is the most conservative number she could select. The real cost could easily run into tens of millions."

"But more important than the economic cost will be the social cost. Essentially what we have here is payment for the further perpetuation of dysfunctionality and violence. And we wonder why kids are killing."

Lindsay Mitchell

Petitioner for a parliamentary review of the DPB

ph/fx 04 562 7944

e-mail dandl.mitchell@clear.net.nz

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