Labour's David Parker suggests cost of living payment went to dead people

Revenue Minister David Parker has suggested a number of dead people may have received the cost of living payment as IRD doesn't get notified as soon as New Zealanders take their last breath.

National's finance spokesperson Nicola Willis asked the Labour MP in Parliament how confident he was that no deceased people have received the payment, which began heading to bank accounts on Monday.

Parker responded by reciting a James K. Baxter poem, which he said "in other words" means "after someone has died, they can't update their details to Inland Revenue".

"What Inland Revenue relies upon is periodic information that comes through from Internal Affairs, which in itself is imperfect but the best that the country has," the minister said.

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD), which is administering the payment, told Newshub this week that it regularly checks who has recently died based on information provided by the Department of Internal Affairs and executors. 

That means that after it receives the information from Internal Affairs, IRD can stop payments going to someone who has passed away. Parker earlier this week suggested it's possible IRD may have paid someone who the department didn't yet know had died. 

But that problem isn't unique to the cost of living payment, he told Newshub.

"That's true also of Superannuation and other payments that are made by the Government automatically until records are updated," Parker said. 

Willis on Thursday asked how many dead people have received the cost of living payment. 

"Probably around the same number as deceased people's bank accounts that get Superannuation or unemployment or other payments or even perhaps National Party pamphlets after they die," Parker replied. 

Willis fired off a press release following the exchange. With the subject line 'Labour's cash for dead people', the email described the cost of living payment scheme as a "total mess" for the Government. She said it showed Labour's "complete and utter disregard for taxpayers' money". 

"The cost of living payment debacle keeps getting worse and worse for Labour. Not only are London expats and French backpackers who haven’t worked or lived in New Zealand for years receiving the payment, but now it has been revealed that dead people may have been paid out too."

She's referencing previous revelations that Kiwis offshore as well as foreigners who previously temporarily worked in New Zealand before departing had received the payments. In some cases, that's because they still have bank accounts in New Zealand getting interest, making them eligible for the payment.

The cost of living payment - $350 over three months - is meant to be for anyone "present" in New Zealand who makes $70,000 or less, is aged over 18 and isn't entitled to the Winter Energy Payment.

It's paid out by the IRD, which is using an automated process that doesn't require Kiwis to apply for the payment. The Government says if it was to get New Zealanders to apply, therefore manually checking they are still alive and in New Zealand, it would be far more costly and time-consuming.

The Government knew way back in May that the payment may go to ineligible people. Advice to ministers said information held by IRD wasn't always up to date.

An IRD spokesperson told Newshub that as of Wednesday 1.46 million New Zealanders had met the eligibility criteria and 1.306 million people had received the payment. IRD doesn't know how many of those recipients are outside of New Zealand.