A “sanction” is where Work and Income reduces or cancels your main benefit because it believes you haven’t complied with your obligations – for example, work-test requirements, or your “social obligations” as a parent.
This will depend on whether, and how many times, you’ve been sanctioned before:
Work and Income must follow a set process when imposing sanctions. This includes:
Work and Income also has the power to stop your benefit if you have an outstanding arrest warrant. There are two ways this can happen, depending on whether the police see you as a public risk:
If you have a dependent child, however, your benefit will only be cut by half, not stopped completely.
Through its Fraud Investigations teams, Work and Income investigates information or accusations that beneficiaries may have received income support that they’re not entitled to.
The two most common areas that are investigated are undeclared income and relationship status.
An investigation might begin after information-sharing between Work and Income and the Inland Revenue Department has shown that a beneficiary hasn’t declared income to Work and Income (see “Information-sharing between government agencies” below). Work and Income may also randomly select cases for investigation, or it may simply have a suspicion that a beneficiary is not in fact entitled to what they are receiving.
Historically, if a Work and Income client was found to have dishonestly claimed a single benefit while in a relationship, that client was solely responsible for paying back the fraud debt. From 7 July 2014 a new “relationship debt sharing” law allows Work and Income to investigate and prosecute both the client and their partner for benefit fraud. This applies to all debt where an investigation clearly shows that the partner has knowingly benefitted from benefit fraud.
Note: The debt shared between you and your partner is debt from when you’re together as a couple. If you split up, the debt remains shared until it’s paid in full. Any debt you have stays with you and your partner until it’s paid off.
Work and Income has very specific protocols (rules) for its investigations. This includes explaining to you at the beginning of any interview that anything you say can be used as evidence against you, that you have the right to remain silent, and that you can stop the interview at any time.
The investigation unit must initiate the investigation in writing, giving you at least five working days’ written notice (sometimes referred to as a “Section 11 letter”) so that you have time to provide them with the information they’re seeking. This information can include:
Note: You should get advice and assistance immediately from a benefit-rights group or Community Law Centre if Work and Income sends you a section 11 letter telling you it’s beginning an investigation (see “Other resources” at the end of this chapter).
Work and Income (as part of the Ministry of Social Development) regularly exchanges information with other government agencies about beneficiaries under a range of “information-matching” agreements with those other agencies.
Work and Income obtains information under the following agreements:
Other information-matching agreements provide for Work and Income to give information about beneficiaries to other government agencies – for example Work and Income passes on beneficiaries’ addresses and phone numbers to the Ministry of Justice if they have unpaid fines.
If Work and Income believes it has overpaid your income support, you will have to come to some repayment arrangement, unless you disagree that there’s been an overpayment and you dispute this with Work and Income (see below, “Challenging an overpayment decision”).
An overpayment may have occurred because, for example:
Note: If Work and Income writes to you telling you you’ve been overpaid, you should contact a benefit-rights organisation (for information see “Other resources” in this chapter).
If you disagree with a Work and Income decision that you’ve been overpaid, you can apply for a review by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).
An overpayment decision might be incorrect because, for example:
Work and Income cannot recover an overpayment from you if: