Benefits cut if you don't return calls
Sun, 16 Sep 2012 6:09p.m.
By Susie Nordqvist
Beneficiaries who fail to answer three phone calls and a voicemail from Work and Income are being told they'll have their welfare payments slashed in half.
The drastic measure forms part of the Government's crackdown on long-term welfare dependency.
But beneficiaries and their advocates are angry. They say they haven't been told about it.
Hana Bellingham is among 53,000 people who are receiving the unemployment benefit in New Zealand.
But she's one of the few who've heard about what's been called the Government's "three strikes" phone call policy.
“It's been a while since I've heard from you guys and I was informed by a friend if I missed three phone calls from Work and Income that my benefit could potentially be cut off?” Ms Bellingham asks the organisation over the phone.
“If they call you three times and cannot make contact with you they will actually look at suspending your unemployment benefit,” responds the Work and Income worker on the other end of the phone.
Work and Income says it will also send clients a letter, urging them to make contact. So how much of the benefit would be cut? It's 50 percent initially and after that if they still try and get in contact, that's when they'll look at suspending the full benefit.
“That's unfair because many beneficiaries at certain times of the month don't have credit and it requires credit to check their messages,” says Ms Bellingham.
She says she has a contract with Work and Income and has the right to know when the terms of that agreement change.
“I'm really terrified for all of the other beneficiaries out there who aren't aware who have may have already been cut off.”
The Ministry of Social Development says "all" unemployment beneficiaries have an obligation to be available for full-time work. It says there's no three strikes policy, but Winz is being more proactive about making sure beneficiaries fulfil certain requirements in return for their money.
For instance, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has announced beneficiaries must have their children enrolled in early childhood education and with a doctor or face benefit cuts. Previously she's said those who fail drug tests will face the same punishment.
The Government wants to cut the number of people on working-age benefits by 30 percent in the next five years.
But Auckland Action Against Poverty says imposing a financial penalty isn't the answer.
“The purpose of social welfare is to provide that money to them so they can get the things that they need, but if it is in fact cut there aren't many other ways in order to get that money than perhaps turning to crime,” says organisation spokesperson Sarah Thompson. “It's pointless and punitive.”
She says it's time the Government started focusing on creating jobs, rather than punishing the poor.
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1/05/2013 7:36:04 p.m.
Why am i not suprised. Browsing around & coming across this article is kind of ironic, why? because i was on an invalids benefit due to various lifelong conditions which was cut roughly 3weeks ago & i'm still waiting for WINZ to contact me about it despite giving them everything they needed,including from the doctors, visiting the Wellington branch, calling, emailing to no avail.
For me, despite my improvements over time to be more independent, it is quite scary as for one, i have epilepsy & much trauma caused by them from younger years until even now, leaves me anxious or always in thought about them. Having to prove whether or not my conditions/illnesses & what have you is valid & true when it is the very things one is trying to better oneself on to lead a somewhat normal life is quite tiresome.
I'm hoping it doesn't come to the point where me & my partner have to leave where we live because someone doesn't want to "pickup a phone &/or return a call"
And yes my partner does work albeit in a supermarket, it's something, at least to get by, we both have always pitched in on food/rent & any other bills. Since we moved in together in August. For now we're managing but hard to say for how long.
We shall see how tomorrows phone-call goes.
Needless to say, it scares me half to death.
29/09/2012 6:25:33 a.m.
There has to be a better way than the 3 phone calls.
I am currently employed full time.
Try phoning a Government dept. or Local Council and see how long it takes to get thru to someone for a sensible reply to a query. To start with you get a voice activated answer that you play tag with [if you can understand the question] sometimes this can take several calls before you get it right. Then you get thru to a real person, quite often you can not understand their English or they don't know/understand your question. Eventually you get thru to the person you require [this may have taken 30plus minutes] to be told they can't find your file "I'll put you on hold" then the phone times out/ and you start again.
My concern is some people wont know WINZ have phoned because they don't have answer machines or don't have a phone [because they couldn't pay the ph bill]
25/09/2012 1:53:49 p.m.
As a family advocate that represents many different people in different circumstances. I agree with Sarah Thompson, she is absolutely on the money (scuse the pun)... If you remove the purpose, you create a new, even bigger problem. What's more I've seen this happen, minimal options due to benefit cuts & it led to crime! We wonder why our adolescents and more people are turning to crime - take a reflective look, read some research & start coming to 4 when you're adding 2 plus 2 instead of 5.
24/09/2012 4:53:10 p.m.
The the Govt has purposely cut worker's rights, they allowed factories to move to China, they cut tariffs so Chinese goods can be brought into NZ. Then the Govt brought immigrants into NZ to take the few remaining jobs left. Now the Govt will punish the unemployed. "Let them eat cake" doesn't work - ask Marie Antoinette!
24/09/2012 8:14:54 a.m.
Good thing the Nats are building more prisons, they're going to need them to house all the extra criminals this stupid policy will create!
24/09/2012 8:03:52 a.m.
Have read article and comments. Obvious answer to disconnected phones, no voicemail, no credit and transient beneficiaries......Get them to contact WINZ!! Give them a date they have to be in contact by, perhaps once a week. Have a catch up see how the job hunting is going, how pro active they have been and if nothing eventuating, how they can assist in getting you into employment. I actually don't see the problem. I went to a tourist resort last week, spoke to a young girl over from Poland who was working here. She managed to get a job and a roof over her head. Why can't the NZ residents??? The jobs must be there?? Maybe the same initiative isn't!?!
24/09/2012 7:53:30 a.m.
what about Deaf people. We can't use phone. I hope you have alternative communication than phone
23/09/2012 9:42:00 p.m.
In fact my sickness benefit was cut completely without any knowledge or prior warning last year, because of misinformation given to WINZ from Inland Revenue. I had no idea about it until I went with my daughter to the supermarket to buy some food for her birthday BBQ. Then, panicking, to WINZ to find out what had happened. In front of my daughter they were so rude I burst into tears. A kind lady (client) took my daughter to the bakery with her child. WINZ refused to reinstate any money or contact Inland Revenue on our behalf, or even explain why they hadn't notified me I was getting cut off. So there was I in a vulnerable situation with my child, unable to buy any food and extremely traumatised. Nobody said anything about a food grant, which I found out about later. I had to spend all the next day at my dad's house trying to get through to Inland Revenue on the phone (had to do away with landline earlier that year as could no longer afford it!) so they could fax WINZ the correct information. Both my daughter and I were left extremely stressed and upset. I wrote to the media about it, but I never heard back. I can't believe they would cut off a chronically ill person who has a young child (who also happens to have a serious health condition), with no warning, then refuse to do anything about it.
23/09/2012 10:04:48 a.m.
@Ross Elliott wrote:
"It is to bridge the loss of income by job seekers, until they succeed in their search. Stop actively searching then NO benefit!" 1. You don't help people in their search by constantly harrassing them. 2. The govt should lay the economic and political groundwork so that people have a realistic chance of finding suitable employment. Right now, this govt is focusing on harrassment and is doing nothing to provide employment. That is the point.
23/09/2012 8:33:32 a.m.
ross elliot wrote:
The primary purpose of the unemployment benifit is NOT "to provide that money to them so they can get the things that they need". It is to bridge the loss of income by job seekers, until they succeed in their search. Stop actively searching then NO benefit!
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