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WINZ childcare subsidy regime a mess: Labour

Labour
2000 web siteA survey of families who receive childcare assistance, undertaken by the Ashburton Baptist Early Learning Centre in the Prime Minister's own electorate, has shown up serious problems with Work and Income New Zealand's handling of the childcare subsidy payments regime, says Labour social welfare spokesperson Steve Maharey.

The survey of 28 families showed high levels of frustration and anger caused by the regime, which is halfway through a twelve-month trial period.

"The trial has proved to be an unmitigated failure and should be abandoned forthwith," Mr Maharey said today.

Childcare centres previously kept attendance records and made a single monthly claim for families entitled to subsidies. Now payments are made weekly to the centres, and parents are responsible for reporting their child's absence directly to WINZ. The result is the regular overpayment of subsidies to the childcare centres. It then falls on parents to repay the debt to WINZ and recover the money from the childcare centres.

"The new payments regime was introduced by WINZ without adequate consultation or planning. It is causing stress for parents, endless paperwork for childcare centres and is keeping people away from their primary task, which should be to look after children in their care."

Nearly half the respondents to the survey rated their dealings with WINZ as 1 or 2, on a scale of 1-5 (with 1=poor and 5=excellent). Comments about the service included "rude and not helpful" "slow and inefficient", "It's a hassle" "whole system needs to be looked at - hassle." (Documents attached)

"The Ashburton Baptist Early Learning Centre's problems are symptomatic of the system as a whole," Mr Maharey said.

"The survey reflects complaints made from all around the country. There is total frustration at the inability of WINZ to fix problems when they occur - in some cases the failure of the childcare subsidy system has resulted in the prosecution of innocent parents for debt fraud. That is totally unacceptable.

"The Associate Minister of Social Service says WINZ acknowledges there have been problems and that "the payment system has not eventuated as originally planned". If that is the case, then who is accountable?

"Mr McCardle says WINZ "intends to continue with the lump sum payment in the interim". I say it should be dumped immediately and someone should be held to account for what is the latest a long line of administrative mess-ups by WINZ," Mr Maharey said.

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