Guest Blog: Claim back your Day from WINZ
By Kay Brereton, Independent Benefit Advocate
This is not just about people’s benefits starting a day late, this is about a Ministry and the Minister finding out they have not been administering the law correctly, and continuing for 16 months and counting, a practice they know doesn’t comply with the law; and now seeking to cover up and fix all this by passing retrospective legislation going back 18 years.
Since June 1998 people's benefits have been starting a day later than the law said they should. Some people have commented that a day of benefit isn't a lot of money, and that the people managed without it so it doesn't matter, the reality is that even $50 or $100 is a lot if it's 20% of what you get each week.
People can argue about the cost to the taxpayer, and how little each person might get, but, in fact, this is a distraction from the big issue.
At the centre of this is a Government Ministry whose practices didn't comply with the law. How should a Ministry behave when it discovers it hasn't been acting in accordance with the law?
In May 2014 the Social Security Appeal Authority in decision 39 warned that the Ministry had section 80BA(4) wrong, then in December 2014 decision 106 again notified the Ministry they were commencing benefits a day late. W&I didn't change the commencement dates for people's benefit to be in line with the law, they kept granting benefits a day late, even once they were aware they were operating contrary to the law.
Is this because MSD see themselves as above the law?
Thirteen months later on 4th June 2015 the Minister introduced an amendment to the Social Security Act to the Parliament, tucked away as a remedial clause at the back of this bill is an amendment to will change the law so that it is consistent with the practice of granting benefits a day late and backdate this change 18 years so no one was underpaid after all.
A simple solution designed to save face and legitimise past administrative practice, while depriving hundreds of thousands of people of a day’s benefit they were entitled to under the guise of saving the taxpayer dollar.
When this was brought to public notice the comment of the Minister of Social Development was "we're talking a day so it's not a huge amount", while it may not be much to her, when you're on a benefit every dollar counts.
Using a retrospective law change to cover up government mistakes is not new, Simon Bridges rushed urgent legislation through in 2013 after it was discovered that there had been a mistake in the law about speed limits, and retrospective changes to surveillance laws were made to legalise the Police activities in gathering evidence leading to the October Terror raids on NZ activists and their communities. Australia has considered making their terror laws retrospective, the UK made retrospective welfare law changes after it had been underpaying claimants. NZ backed down on retrospective tax law in 2011, but who's to say they won't start backdating even the Tax law to suit themselves as they find they can get away with it.
Everyone who has ever been on a benefit knows it is hard to pay all the bills, you slip into debt, and somehow also acquire W&I debt, be it a washing machine advance, or the equivalent of a day's benefit because you had some casual work; they don't forgive this debt.
Many people on a benefit have also experienced an attitude at some time of ‘we’re always right, we don’t make mistakes’, this is highlighted in this issue, with MSD seeing this as an error in drafting the legislation, not an error in their administration.
To cover up their ‘mistake’, the law is being changed to take away an entitlement of hundreds of thousands of citizens, if you want to stand up to a government who will legislate against the poor without social conscience, then "Claim back your Day from W&I" and tell your friends and family how to join in too.
The aim is to have all people currently on a benefit paid their correct backdated entitlement, and for anyone not on a benefit who has W&I debt to have any entitlement offset against their debt.
And then for a process to be set up so that those not covered by the above scenarios can ask for their entitlement to be checked.
But also to stop the retrospective change to section 80BA, and to have Parliament consider whether any change is really necessary, or whether people’s benefit should start the day their stand down ends, as is currently the law.
Visit ‘Claim back your Day from W&I’ on facebook to ask questions and get more info. https://www.facebook.com/groups/100263340329543/
Check out the items on Radio New Zealand:
Govt underpaid benefits for 18 years http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/284308/govt-underpaid-benefits-for-18-years
Give beneficiaries the money they're owed - Greens http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/284368/give-beneficiaries-their-money-greens