'Brutal' WINZ cuts off student's sickness benefit for taking free classes

Work and Income employees won't give up their "brutal" treatment of struggling Kiwis until the Government changes the law around benefit entitlements, it's been claimed.

In the latest case making headlines, a man suffering from depression and anxiety has had his benefit axed after he opted to take a free business class, RNZ reports.

"They're saying, you know 'people should get off the benefit and go and do a job or do a course'," he told the broadcaster, wishing to remain anonymous.

"So what am I doing? We're doing things the honest way and that's to go out and do a course that is free."

Both he and his partner, who is receiving a student allowance, are taking the free night course. He hopes it will give him the confidence to go back to work, or even set up his own business.

But he says Work and Income told him he's too old to get a student allowance, and he can't study and be on a sickness benefit at the same time. They allegedly said if they needed more money, his partner could take out a loan to top up her allowance - which would have to be paid back, or he could quit study and become a 'dependant partner', which would boost their entitlements - but not to the level they had before.

RNZ reports the 55-year-old decided to stick to the course, although it's cost him his sickness benefit. The pair - who have an eight-year-old son - are surviving on just $340 a week.

Auckland Action Against Poverty rep Alastair Russell said the "rigid interpretation" stopped Work and Income staff from using discretion in cases like this one.

"The culture within Work and Income remains toxic and we have a Government that will not change any of the legislation, which allows Work and Income to act in brutal ways towards people," he told RNZ.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni told Newshub Nation last month any overhaul of the welfare system will have to wait until she's heard back from an expert advisory panel.

"[The Ministry of Social Development] is a huge machine. It's like this massive jumbo jet that's been set on a certain direction for the last nine years," she told Newshub Nation.

"To expect me to able to put the brake on mid-air and turn that jumbo jet around immediately is a little bit unreasonable."

The Ministry of Social Development is looking into the case.

It follows reports last month a woman was told her benefit was being cut off because she had been on a date with a man who bought her dinner and a movie.