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Welfare faud crackdown 'double standard'

Wednesday 20 Feb 2013 4:51 p.m.

Spouses and partners of benefit fraudsters will be criminally liable under a Government clampdown on welfare crime.

The new relationship-offending law could land complicit partners in jail, but Opposition parties say it shows the double standard between tax evasion and benefit fraud.

It's a crackdown on partners of crime – spouse or de facto, turn a blind eye to bludging and you'll be liable.

“We're treating benefit fraud as the crime it is,” says Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows. “And so if you commit any other fraud you'll be treated in exactly the same way.”

But will you? There's no law specifically targeting partners of white-collar fraudsters. A study found welfare fraud cost the country $39 million last year – and tax evaders more than $1 billion.

“I have to say I'm pretty tired of the pure politics that's being played in this area and the double standard that we see between the way welfare fraud and tax fraud is,” says Labour spokesperson Jacinda Ardern.

And if you're being investigated for your part in your partner's benefit fraud, you may not know it until you're charged. The new welfare legislation removes the need to notify suspects. The Government says it's above board, rubber-stamped by the Privacy Commissioner.

“It harks back to the old National Party's dob-in-a-bludger days, when they were asking people to sneak around and check in people's windows and then report them,” says Green co-leader Metiria Turei.

And it may cause problems for victims of domestic violence.

“If I were in a relationship or I’d left a relationship with someone who was violent, there'd now be fear for them that they'd get prosecuted,” says Sarah Thompson of Action Against Poverty.

The relationship offending law is part of a three-pronged package. There'll also be more checks on beneficiaries with a history of cheating and better information sharing between the likes of ACC, IRD, Housing New Zealand, the Police and the Ministry of Social Development.

And while Mr Borrows told reporters the Maori Party was on-side, party co-leader Tariana Turia says she won’t be supporting it.

Even so, National should still get the votes to push the package through Parliament.

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