Motel living leaves whanau in severe debt

  • 25/06/2016
(The Hui)
(The Hui)

Hard up, homeless and now tens of thousands of dollars in debt to Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ): that's the situation facing one whanau after spending the better part of five months living in a motel.

Speaking to TV3's Maori current affairs programme The Hui, a couple who have asked to keep their identities hidden say they have racked up more than $15,000 in recoverable debt after they were evicted from their private rental home at the beginning of the year.

A man we'll call James says that he left his day job to study in the hope of creating a better life for his partner and four children. 

James says their financial situation turned sour because WINZ and Studylink kept paying the couple incorrect amounts into their bank accounts, week after week, for several months, causing them to fall into rent arrears.  James's partner says it all got too much for their landlord.

"I'd promise our landlord that rent would be paid on this day, I'd give a call to WINZ or Studylink and get them to confirm exactly how much I'm getting paid that night. Come that evening or the next morning, the money is not there and I look really stupid because I've just promised my landlord, and we lost the landlord's trust."

When the couple were eventually evicted, James's wife Sarah went to WINZ for help -- that's when she says she was told she already owed them around $20,000.

When she asked what the debt was for, she says WINZ staff, on a number of occasions, have been unable to tell her.

"I went in and saw a manager, she turned around and said to me, 'Can you tell me what this debt is', I'm kind of dumbfounded," Sarah says. "How am I supposed to explain that? They should have a record of that."

After enquires made by The Hui, the Ministry of Social Development's Deputy Chief Executive, Ruth Bond responded with Sarah's record of debt and said in a statement:

"[Sarah] has a current outstanding debt of $31,000. We provided this to help her with a range of things over the past eight years for moving costs, rent arrears, food, school uniforms, car repairs and other immediate and essential costs.

"Each time someone is granted an advance of benefit, which is recoverable, we have a discussion with them to ensure they understand that this will need to be paid back."

For the full story, tune in to The Hui, Sunday TV3 9:30am.