Benefit suspensions drop after rule change

Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni looking at the WINZ online eligbility guide.
Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni looking at the WINZ online eligbility guide. Photo credit: Twitter/ Carmel Sepuloni

Benefit suspensions have dropped by one fifth less than three weeks after the Government changed the rules around benefit sanctions.

Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) staff must now get a second opinion from a staff member before making the decision to cut or suspend benefits.

Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said due to the change, the number of benefits suspended per day have dropped from 100 to 80.

"In the first three weeks since the new guidelines were introduced, there was a daily 23% reduction in suspensions. That demonstrates how critical those changes were."

Ms Sepuloni has also overseen a complete makeover of four WINZ offices, as part of a pilot aimed at creating a friendlier, more welcoming environment for its clients.

Changes included introducing a child-friendly zone, improved privacy, ensuring a place in line is not lost by going to the bathroom, dressing security guards in polos rather than full security uniforms, and a water cooler in the office.

Caitlin, a 25-year-old who was on the Independent Youth Benefit from the age of 16 through to the end of university, says the upgrade is amazing.

She said the WINZ office would no longer be "a room that makes you want to cry just by looking at it".

"I was always too worried about missing my appointment to go to the bathroom, and didn't know where they were anyway," she said.

"I think I had three WINZ offices in my two years and I don't know where the toilets are in any of them," she said.

This WINZ office in Palmerston North is part of the pilot programme.
This WINZ office in Palmerston North is part of the pilot programme. Photo credit: Carmel Sepuloni

Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Ricardo Menendez said changing the physical space was a step in the right direction.

He also said it was good to see the drop in benefit suspensions due to requiring a second pair of eyes.

"It highlights just how much harm the discretionary power of case managers has been causing to our most vulnerable."

However, without the removal of benefit sanctions, case managers "still have a stick to beat beneficiaries with".

Newshub.

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