Coronavirus: Ministry of Social Development confirms email process for wage subsidy

As business cash flow continues to be squeezed by the COVID-19 lockdown, thousands of employers applying for the wage subsidy can now expect prompt communication by email.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern confirmed that $4.5 billion in wage subsidies for 750,000 workers had already been paid, around 15 percent of the New Zealand population.  

Jayne Russell, Ministry of Social Development (MSD) group general manager employment, said that process improvements have been made, including confirmation to employers that their application has been received.

"Anyone who makes an application for a wage subsidy will now receive an acknowledgement via email," Russell said.

She said that subsidies are paid as quickly as possible, with a target of within five working days. If there's a longer wait, its likely to be because there's a discrepancy in the information provided.

"One of the leading reasons for delay is where businesses have provided information that doesn’t exactly match information held by Inland Revenue," Russell said.

"When we haven’t been able to approve the application for that reason, we're sending an email to the applicant suggesting steps to get that issue resolved."

A calculation of the subsidy isn't currently provided, putting the onus on employers to check the amount paid into their account.

"If employers are concerned about the amounts they've received, we encourage them to get in touch with us," Russell added.

The COVID-19 wage subsidy is paid as a 12-week lump sum: $585.80 a week for full-time workers who worked 20 hours or more per week before COVID-19 and $350 a week for part-time workers working less than 12 hours. 

To avoid paying part-time workers more than their pre-COVID-19 wage, Finance Minister Grant Robertson clarified in March that if income is normally less than the subsidy, they should be paid their normal salary.

"We urge employers to use normal hours in the period before COVID-19 to assess the amount to be paid," Robertson said.

Confirming Robertson's March 28 statement, MSD said that if an employee's usual wages are less than the subsidy, employers are to pay their usual wages.

"Any difference should be used for the wages of other affected staff - the wage subsidy is designed to keep your employees connected to you.” 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern confirmed that in the space of one day, thousands of new wage subsidy applications had been received. 

"To shine a light on the current daily scale, there were 13,000 new applications since yesterday and they continue to be processed in earnest by [Ministry of Social Development] staff," Ardern said at her daily COVID-19 press conference.