Cost of living payment: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't apologise over cost of living payment rollout, National furious

The National Party is calling on the Government to apologise for the rollout of the cost of living payment, which the opposition party has labelled a "poor use of taxpayer money".

The Prime Minister on Tuesday acknowledged the system wasn't perfect, but wouldn't apologise after money from the first round of the payment went to foreigners and Kiwis living overseas.

It follows a scathing Auditor-General letter on Monday that raised concerns with how the payment was delivered earlier in August, including how quickly getting money out the door was prioritised over accuracy.

John Ryan, the Controller and Auditor-General, also said it was "unacceptable" IRD "does not know, and may never know, how many ineligible people might have received the payment".

National leader Christopher Luxon on Tuesday morning said the Government must respond.

"We are really calling on the Government to do two things," he said. "First, to apologise for the poor use of taxpayer money, and the second thing, to declare and come forward and talk about how many of those payments [have gone] to how many people who were ineligible."

He said the rollout had been "completely, utterly disrespectful of taxpayer money".

"It is not the Government's money. It is people's who have worked incredibly hard, would have liked to have kept it in their own pocket probably, have given it to the Government and the Government has sprayed it around to dead people, investor bankers and French backpackers."

The party's finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, said people have approached her "aware of relatives who had the payment go into a bank account, and those are deceased relatives." 

Willis said the Auditor-General had made it clear in his letter to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue that IRD should look into how many ineligible people had received the payment.

"It is up to the Government to say, are they going to take the Auditor-General up on that recommendation or not," she said.

"They should make it as simple as possible for people to pay it back and they should be crystal clear that is the right thing to do."

It's estimated that of the 1.4 million people who received the first payment, about 31,000 of them could be living overseas. That's despite the eligibility criteria for the payment being that people have to be New Zealand tax residents and "present here".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Tuesday morning whether she would apologise. 

"Just to be clear, we can't even be 100 percent certain that those individuals were ineligible," Ardern responded.

She pointed to changes the Government announced on Monday ahead of the upcoming round of the payment on Thursday. That includes new screening measures that may mean some eligible people have to contact IRD to get the payment. 

"There were three choices. Do nothing. The second choice was to do what we did and seek to reach as many New Zealanders as possible who fit in that low and middle-income category. The third option was to have them apply and we know that just wouldn't have reached people," she said.

"It was not a perfect system and we have continued to sought to refine it. But I absolutely stand by the intent to support New Zealanders."

The cost of living payment was first announced at the May Budget. It's $350 split over three months - roughly $116 a month - intended for people who are aged 18 or over, earn $70,000 or less and are not entitled to the Winter Energy Payment. 

Despite the payments going to some ineligible people, Revenue Minister David Parker has defended the policy. He has said the only alternative to the automated process would be to require people to apply, which would be costly, time-consuming and potentially mean some people miss out. 

IRD explained that an ineligible person could potentially get the payment if they hadn't told IRD they had left the country and if they had received income into a New Zealand bank account from the likes of bank interest.