National MP joins chorus of frustrated businesses after unexpected closure of wage subsidy applications

National MP Louise Upston has joined a chorus of businesses frustrated with the Government after wage subsidy applications unexpectedly closed, sparking confusion. 

Earlier this week the Government announced that applications for the first round of the wage subsidy payment for the latest COVID-19 Delta outbreak would close at 11.59pm on Thursday. 

But several businesses were shocked to find that the website closed applications at around 8pm, with many writing to Newshub to express frustration at learning applications for the first round had closed early.

Later in the evening, at about 10.30pm, applications appeared to reopen, and Work and Income has confirmed to Newshub the issue is attributed to human error. 

But Upston says it's not good enough and the Government should apologise to business owners for their "botched communications". 

"Last night National MPs were inundated with messages from businesses, some as early as 8.30pm, frustrated to learn applications for the first round had closed early," Upston said on Friday. 

"This bungle has added further stress to many businesses and employees who are already doing it tough. The Government must make sure no one misses out on payments and the systems align with the publicly stated deadlines.

"The botched communications from the Government for this round of the wage subsidy has already made life difficult for many. Kiwis shouldn't have to deal with basic government errors as well."

Some business owners were less than impressed. 

"At 9.10pm last night, a very stressed client called me saying the application form closed early. Three hours early! This is a time when a lot of small businesses do admin like this," business advisor Geoff Neal told Newshub. 

"Very stressful for businesses who are doing the right thing and confirming their eligibility before submitting," another email sent to Newshub said, among others. 

Work and Income's General Manager Centralised Services Jason Dwen acknowledged there "were some technical issues on Thursday evening". 

"In fairness to those who tried to apply over this time, we made the decision to extend the application period from the original close off time of 11.59pm, out to 7am on Friday 3 September," Dwen told Newshub. 

"This issue was the result of human error, and we are sorry about this."

The error came about, he said, because of work taking place on the website that evening in preparation for the next iteration of the wage subsidy scheme opening the following morning. 

Applications for the second round opened as planned at 9am on Friday morning. 

"We're working through a process to deal with people who feel they have missed out. A complaint form is available on the Work and Income website and we'll be in contact as soon as possible to discuss," Dwen said. 

"Wage subsidy applications have been working smoothly today and we are not aware of any website outages. Applications closed this morning, as planned, during a two-hour window between one scheme closing at 7am and the next one opening at 9am."

Figures from Work and Income show 92 percent of paid wage subsidy applications have been dished out within three working days. 

The main reason for any delays is when the information contained in the application cannot be matched with Inland Revenue, Dwen said. 

More than $900 million has been paid out for the wage subsidy so far this outbreak with more than 200,000 applications approved, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday. 

Businesses can apply for the wage subsidy if they can show a 40 percent decline over a period of 14 consecutive days compared to a typical 14 consecutive days of revenue in the six weeks before the move to lockdown. 

The wage subsidy covers a two week period at the rate of $600 a week for each full-time employee retained and $359 a week for each part-time employee.

In terms of other resources, businesses can also apply for the Leave Support Scheme and Short-Term Absence Payment, as well as the Resurgence Support Payment, which is a one-off payment administered by Inland Revenue to help meet fixed costs.