Advocate calls for investigation into spending by Ministry for Disabled People, Whaikaha, as $10m blowout revealed

Newshub can reveal the embattled Ministry for Disabled People, Whaikaha, spent nearly $10 million on contractors and consultants in sixteen months. 

Now, a disability advocate says the ministry needs to be referred to the Auditor-General for a forensic examination of its spending. 

Disability Issues Minister Penny Simmonds came under pressure last month for suddenly and without consultation restricting access to a flexible fund for disabled people and their carers, causing panic and upset. 

The funding was restricted because Whaikaha was about to run out of money. 

Simmonds said the cuts were so "we have a good system that is also a viable system and affordable, and it has to be that because that's the reality of working with public money". 

However, Newshub's obtained details of the amount the ministry has spent on consultants and contractors. In the past sixteen months, it spent $4.5 million on consultants and $5.8 million on contractors. 

"The last thing we need is more bureaucrats and we've got them in spades in terms of the ministry now sitting at nearly 350 staff," disability advocate Jane Carrigan said. 

Whaikaha said it was a new agency that marked its first year in July. As it was building the organisation, it had one-off expenditure and used contractors for roles that needed to be backfilled, the ministry added. 

But Carrigan wants it to be investigated. 

"I absolutely would be calling upon Cabinet to have the Auditor-General step in and do a forensic dissection of disability support services in New Zealand," she said. 

Simmonds said a review would have a "deep dive look into it", promising the terms of reference for that review in the next few weeks. 

She said she knew the needs of the community well. 

"We have three daughters and our youngest daughter is down syndrome, so it's been part of our life all my life." 

But one struggle for disabled people who rely on a Government benefit is they can't buy their own homes because having the asset disqualifies them from support. 

"We really want to break poverty cycle for our communities so we're looking at ways to provide any of the tenants with the ownership stake in our property portfolios, so after 10 years with the right support we can help them from surviving to thriving," Autism NZ chief executive Dane Dougan said. 

He added the change in support disproportionately impacted those with autism. 

"I think our autistic and wider autistic community have probably been impacted more than most because it seems it has taken away the ability to have flexibility in what you purchase in terms of things like noise cancelling headphones or iPads that are going to be really helpful." 

* An earlier version of this story said nearly $10 million was spent on contractors and consultants in a year. This figure was provided by Whaikaha. They have since clarified that time period to be sixteen months.