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Trouble with Work and Income: Penalties, investigations and overpayments

Penalties (Sanctions)

What is a “sanction”?

When you are getting a main benefit, you have obligations that are specific to each benefit type and depend on your situation (see: “Types of main benefits” to find the specific obligations).

If you fail to meet an obligation without a good and sufficient reason, your benefit can be reduced or cancelled (“sanctioned”).

The process that Work and Income must follow

Social Security Act 2018, ss 252 – 254, 256, 232

Work and Income have a set process they have to follow when imposing sanctions. This includes:

  • contacting you to determine whether you have a “good and sufficient reason” for not meeting your obligations,
  • notifying you in writing at least five working days before they take the particular action, and
  • if it’s your first or second sanction, giving you the opportunity to meet your obligations (“re-comply”) before they impose the sanction on you.

Work and Income must be satisfied that you do not have a good and sufficient reason before initiating the obligation failure. If your benefit gets sanctioned without them making a reasonable attempt to contact you, Work and Income are breaching their own obligations  and you can make a complaint to the Ombudsman (see: “The Ombudsman: Watchdogs over government“).

What penalties (sanctions) can be imposed?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 236–239, 244, 253, 270, 271

The first time you get sanctioned, your main benefit will be cut by half until you meet your obligations (“re-comply”). At this stage, usually just getting in touch with Work and Income and promising to meet your obligations will be enough to be considered re-complying. If you haven’t re-complied within four weeks, your main benefit will be cut entirely until you do re-comply.

If you’re sanctioned a second time within 12 months, your main benefit will be cut entirely until you re-comply (for example, passing a drug test if you previously failed one).

If you’re sanctioned a third time within 12 months, your main benefit will be cancelled. You’ll have to reapply for the benefit, but you’ll have to wait for 13 weeks after the cancellation, and you’ll face tougher eligibility criteria than when you were originally granted the benefit.

Note: If you have dependent children (see: “Key words”), your benefit will only be cut by half, not stopped completely.

Outstanding arrest warrants: Power to cut benefits

Social Security Act 2018, ss 209–216

Work and Income also have 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:

  • No public risk – If a warrant for your arrest is still outstanding 28 days after it was issued, the Police will tell Work and Income who will then give you 10 working days to clear your warrant – otherwise, your benefit will be stopped.
  • Risk to public safety – If the police believe you are a risk to public safety, they will tell Work and Income who can stop your benefit immediately without having to tell you in advance. The police officer who signs the written request to Work and Income must be at the level of inspector or higher.

However, if you have a dependent child, your benefit will only be cut by half, not stopped completely.

Can I get a benefit while in prison or on remand?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 217–218

Prison – You cannot be paid a benefit while in prison.

If you have a partner and/or dependent children, Work and Income have discretion to pay your benefit to your partner or a temporary caregiver of your children, particularly if your sentence is for a short period of time. However, generally your partner or the caregiver of your children will be encouraged to apply for a benefit in their own right.

On remand – If you are remanded in custody while waiting for your court appearance, Work and Income will generally stop your payments. However, Work and Income have discretion to continue your payments after taking your circumstances into account.

They will consider things such as:

  • your financial commitments that can’t be avoided (for example, rent)
  • whether you have dependent children or a partner that rely on your financial support
  • any other relevant circumstances.

Did this answer your question?

Dealing with Work and Income

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Ministry of Social Development – Work and Income (WINZ)

See Work and Income’s website for information on whether you qualify for a benefit and how to apply for them.

Website: www.workandincome.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 559 009

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP)

AAAP is a free nationwide advocacy service for people dealing with Work and Income.

Website: www.aaap.org.nz
Email: advocates@aaap.org.nz
Instagram: www.instagram.com/aucklandactionagainstpoverty
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AAAPNZ/

Helpful resources for beneficiaries: www.aaap.org.nz/resources

Beneficiaries Advocacy and Information Services (BAIS)

BAIS provides free advocacy and support for beneficiaries and low-income families in Auckland’s North Shore, Rodney and Hibiscus Coast districts.

Website: www.bais.org.nz
Phone: 09 444 9543
Instagram: www.instagram.com/bais.northshoreandrodney
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BAISnorthshoreandrodey   

Hutt Valley Benefit Education Service Trust (HV BEST)

The HV BEST provides information and support to beneficiaries in the Hutt Valley. 

Website: www.hvbest.co.nz
Email: hvbest@xtra.co.nz
Phone: 04 529 8108

Beneficiaries & Unwaged Workers Trust (BUWT)

BUWT provides information, advice and support to people on low incomes in Nelson.

Website: www.buwt.wordpress.com
Email: buwtcs@xtra.co.nz
Phone: 03 548 8171
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/282105670089970/?locale=pt_PT

Beneficiary Advisory Service (BAS)

The BAS provides information and support to beneficiaries in Christchurch.

Website: www.bas.org.nz
Email: bas.cprc@gmail.com
Phone: 0800 00 00 43
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeneficiaryAdvisoryService

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)

CAB provides free, confidential and independent information and advice. See CAB’s website for valuable information on a range of topics.

Website: www.cab.org.nz
Phone: 0800 367 222
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/citizensadvicenz

Find your local CAB office: www.cab.org.nz/find-a-cab

Zero Data

Zero Data is a new digital support that allows anyone with a mobile device, phone or tablet to access essential Government information for free. No data is used.

Website: www.zero.govt.nz

What do I need do I need for it to work?

  •  The device is on.
  •  The device is connected to Spark, Skinny One NZ, 2Degrees, Slingshot or Orcon.

You can access information from the following agencies:

  • Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora | Ministry of Social Development
  • Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | Ministry of Education
  • Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs
  • Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand
  • Kāinga Ora | Homes & Communities
  • Te Tāhū o te Ture | Ministry of Justice
  • Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara | Accident Compensation Corporation

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