The Government is being accused of paying for beneficiaries to travel to Australia to find work.
Labour made the claim in Parliament this afternoon and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was unable to give a guarantee it isn't happening.
Since National took office five years ago, more than 170,000 people have left for Australia.
Labour's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, says Work and Income has been using the Transition to Work Grant and taxpayers are picking up the tab.
“There is a taxpayer fund called the Transition to Work Grant that I’ve been informed has been used to assist job seekers to move to Australia for work.”
The $1500 grant is meant to help with job search costs, such as clothing and travel, and the Ministry of Social Development website explains it is normally for people intending to stay in New Zealand.
In the past five years 500,000 people have received the grant. Ms Bennett admitted that people going to Australia may have been given the grant “the odd time in the last five years”.
“I would have to go manually go back through the past five years, and in the last three hours I haven't had time to that,” she says.
Unemployment is at the highest level in 13 years with 175,000 people out of work. Minus, of course, anybody who may have found work in Australia, courtesy of the taxpayer.
“I think that what this says is this minister is more intent on keeping her numbers down than helping keep New Zealand families in work in New Zealand,” Ms Adern says.
So the Ministry of Social Development is now urgently trying to establish how widespread the issue is. But because the grant was never intended to fund travel to Australia, officials have to manually search the 500,000 files, and that could take weeks.
3 News / NZN