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Specialist staff usher in big welfare changes

Specialist staff usher in big welfare changes

Specialist case managers have begun working all over the country as the first big changes in the Government’s Working for Families package come into effect.

There are 46 case managers specially trained in the $1.1 billion package, which will benefit around 300,000 New Zealand families in the next three years.

At the same time, 59 Childcare Co-ordinators have been introduced to work closely with childcare providers and help families access childcare services.

“These are some of the most significant reforms to the benefit system in the last 30 years,” said Work and Income head Ray Smith.

“I’m confident that our specialist case managers and childcare co-ordinators, along with the rest of our front-line staff, will ensure Working for Families is introduced smoothly and effectively.”

The October changes are in the areas of Accommodation Supplement and Childcare Assistance:

Accommodation Supplement The Accommodation Supplement income thresholds have changed, making it available to more families. It also means working people can earn more before their Accommodation Supplement is reduced.

These changes apply to single people and couples without children, as well as people with children.

As of 1 October 2004, people receiving benefits keep all their Accommodation Supplement, even if they earn extra income on top of their benefit. Previously extra income would cause benefit to be abated.

Childcare Assistance Childcare and OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) Subsidy rates have increased significantly, making childcare more affordable for parents.

Income limits were also raised as of 4 October 2004, so that families not previously entitled to a Childcare or OSCAR Subsidy may now qualify.

“Some of the people who will benefit from Working for Families are not current Work and Income clients,” said Mr Smith.

“Because we have had no contact with them, they need to get in touch to establish whether they are eligible. We’d urge them to do so, as the benefits cannot be back-dated.”

A Working for Families freephone has been set up to provide further information, and can be reached on 0800 774 004, between 7am and 8pm on weekdays and 8am and 5pm on Saturdays. Information can also be found at www.workandincome.govt.nz.

There has been a high level of interest in Working for Families, with up to 1500 people a day calling the freephone in September.

There will be further big changes in April 2005, when: Family Support rates increase

The child component of benefits and Student Allowances becomes part of Family Support. This means that support for children will be available primarily in one payment, Family Support, and this will be readily transferable between benefit and work

Higher maximum rates apply to the Accommodation Supplement in some areas to help people living in places that have high accommodation costs, particularly Auckland.

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