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Applying and qualifying for benefits

Some general requirements for benefits

In this section we explain some qualifications that apply across all or most benefits. In the next section, “Types of benefits”, we describe the different types of benefits and the specific requirements for each one.

Born or living in New Zealand: Residency requirements

Social Security Act 2018, s 16

To qualify for a benefit, you must be both legally resident and physically present in New Zealand. This means that you must:

  • have been born here, or
  • have got resident status through becoming a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident, or
  • be seeking New Zealand resident status on the basis that you are a refugee.

For most benefits, you’ll need to have lived in New Zealand continuously for at least two years, although refugees can receive a main benefit when they arrive in New Zealand.

To be eligible for New Zealand Superannuation, you must meet specific residency criteria, as well as being 65 or older, see “You’re 65 or older” in the “Types of benefits” section.

For information about applying for New Zealand residence or claiming refugee status, see the chapters “Immigration” and “Refugees”.

You and your partner: How relationship status can affect getting a benefit

Social Security Act 2018, s 8

If you’re receiving a single person or sole-parent benefit, your marital or relationship status is a key element of your entitlement to the relevant benefit.

Work and Income will treat you as being part of a couple if you’re married or in a civil union or in a de facto relationship. See “De facto relationships: ‘Relationships in the nature of marriage’” below.

Note: If Work and Income claim you’re in a relationship in the nature of a marriage but you disagree with this, you should contact your nearest benefit-rights group (see “Where to go for more support” in this chapter) before you talk to Work and Income. Accusations of benefit fraud are serious matters, and can lead to criminal charges being laid against you.

Marriages and civil unions

If you’re legally married or in a civil union, you’re considered to be part of a couple for benefit purposes unless you have “publicly repudiated” your marriage/civil union vows.

Public repudiation can take a variety of forms and can include the steps needed to get divorced (“dissolution of marriage”). See the chapter “Relationships and break-ups”.

De facto relationships: “Relationships in the nature of marriage”

Case: [1997] 1 NZLR 94 (CA)

If you’re not legally married or in a civil union, Work and Income can still consider you to be a couple if you’re in a “relationship in the nature of a marriage”.

The test for this has two parts:

  • First, an “emotional commitment for the foreseeable future” – There’s no clear definition of this term, but the level of commitment needs to be more than just a long-standing friendship. It might involve, for example, joint parenting of children, holidaying together, and sharing social engagements. It’s not necessary for the couple to be having sex. If there has been family violence, this may mean that the necessary emotional commitment doesn’t exist and therefore that it’s not a relationship in the nature of marriage. However, this will depend on the particular case.
  • Second, “financial interdependence” – This might involve both people signing a tenancy agreement or mortgage, or sharing household costs, for example, by one person paying the power bill and the other the phone bill. Other activities, such as sharing household chores and cooking meals for each other, may also be relevant.

Both parts of this test are capable of being interpreted very widely. Clearly some of the arrangements given as examples above could describe flatmates or friends – or even siblings.

Note: The law isn’t consistent in what it considers to be a “relationship”. The test explained above applies to benefit law, but when you die or break up with someone, a completely different definition of a “relationship” is applied. See the chapters “Wills”, “A death in the family” and “Relationships and break-ups” for more information.

Partners and the work test

The partner of a beneficiary is subject to the same work-testing requirements as if they were a beneficiary in their own right.

Challenging Work and Income decisions

If Work and Income decides you’re not entitled to a specific benefit because of your relationship status, you can have the decision reviewed by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Things you might have to do first

Pre-benefit activities (interviews, assessments and so on)

Social Security Act 2018, ss 184, 185, 432; Social Security Regulations 2018, reg 110

If you’re a working-age applicant for a benefit, Work and Income can require you to participate in certain “pre-benefit activities”. These can include:

  • employment-related seminars (“Work For You” seminars)
  • providing evidence that you’ve been looking for work – such as acknowledgements of job applications, rejection letters and so on
  • writing a CV
  • having an interview with a Work and Income case manager
  • self-assessment or planning.

Work ability assessments

Social Security Act 2018, ss 116–118

Any working-age applicant for a benefit faces a “work ability assessment” for benefit purposes. This determines the type of benefit and what is “suitable employment” or “suitable activities”. There can be a re-assessment of the type of benefit, employment prospects or activities at any time.

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Dealing with Work and Income

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and, depending on your situation, may be able to provide ongoing support.

Work and Income


Phone: 0800 559 009

This website contains information about who qualifies for the different benefits and payments and how to apply for them.

Benefit rates

For information about the benefit rates that apply from 1 April 2021, visit:


Beneficiary advocacy groups

There’s likely to be an advocacy group for beneficiaries in your area. Look for them online. If you’re not able to find one, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (see below).

Auckland Action Against Poverty


Phone: (09) 634 0591

AAAP provides a free advocacy service for people dealing with Work and Income. They have also published a 30-page “Beneficiary Rights Booklet”, which you can download from their ‘Resources’ page.

Address: 120 Church St, Onehunga, Auckland 1061
Email: advocates@aaap.org.nz

Citizens Advice Bureau


Phone: 0800 FOR CAB (0800 367 222)

Every Citizens Advice Bureau has volunteers who can provide information, particularly on where to access beneficiary advocacy services.

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