Urgent bill passed to fix 17yo mistake

  • 19/11/2015
 Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (File)
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (File)

By Peter Wilson

Parliament has passed a bill under urgency to fix a mistake made 17 years ago that meant thousands of beneficiaries were underpaid by one day.

The Government says it was a 1998 technical drafting error.

It meant that by law beneficiaries should have been paid from the day their stand down period ended.

Work and Income didn't interpret it that way, and continued to pay them from the day after the stand down period ended.

The error was discovered in May last year, and in September Work and Income started paying on the day stand down ended so it could be sure it was complying with the law.

Following publicity, beneficiaries who had missed out began applying for a payment review.

Some are reported to have been paid out, with sums ranging from $40 to $300.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says between 8000 and 10,000 have applied for a review, and those applications will be processed despite the bill retrospectively fixing the drafting error to make it clear payments start the day after stand down.

People who went on a benefit after the error was identified in May last year have seven weeks to lodge an application for a review.

Mrs Tolley says the policy position of successive governments has been to start benefit payments the day after stand down.

"This policy never changed," she told parliament.

"The legislative error was a technical error - there was never intended to be an extra day."

Mrs Tolley says the protections she's put around review applications have been made in good faith.

"They don't negate the original policy intent that a benefit should commence on the day after stand down."

Labour and the Greens say the government isn't being fair.

"This was a legal entitlement and should be upheld," said the Greens' Jan Logie.

"Putting this bill through under urgency is a shameful misuse of parliament."

The bill passed all its stages on Wednesday night, voted through 75-46.