Coronavirus: Kiwis desperate for support spending 'days' on the phone to Work and Income

People desperate for support are having to spend days on the phone before Work and Income heeds their calls.

Whether it's paying rent or putting food on the table, many are already feeling the pinch of the COVID-19 lockdown.

It's playtime for three-year-old Caleb but his mum Jenny is hard at work hitting the phones for days on end.

"I've been ringing up every single day, getting told [it's] an hour's wait, 60 minutes wait," Jenny Mansell told Newshub.

Work and Income locked down its offices last Monday, meaning the phone is the only option for Mansell, who is desperate for an emergency food grant.

"We've been having to scratch through whatever we've got," she said.

"Some nights we've had to feed the kids noodles, spaghetti which is not a substantial enough meal."

She says six days of calling finally secured a $200 grant.

Work and Income is encouraging people to first check its website for information or access assistance through the MyMSD phone application.

If people don't get the answers they need, then they should make the call.

From Tuesday to Friday last week Work and Income responded to more than 75,000 phone calls and service centres carried out more than 49,000 phone appointments.

Processing centres completed more than 56,000 tasks such as applications for hardship assistance and changes in circumstances. 

It has brought in 84 extra staff and is now running seven days a week.

"I do really feel sorry for people who have to wait, it's just busy, I've got as many people as I can trying to help through the whole organisation," said Viv Rickard, the Ministry of Social Development's deputy chief executive, service delivery. 

Applying for a KiwiSaver hardship withdrawal is also an option but it's a last resort, says the Financial Markets Authority (FMA).

"It's there for your own future," FMA director of regulation Liam Mason told Newshub.

"Taking out money now, you could be raiding your own future, it's going to take away the available saving for retirement."

But for many the biggest concern is three weeks in the future - let alone 30 years.