Home | Browse Topics | Jobs, benefits & flats | Dealing with Work and Income | Penalties (“Sanctions”)

Jobs, benefits & flats

Trouble with Work and Income: Penalties, investigations and overpayments

Penalties (“Sanctions”)

What is a “sanction”?

A “sanction” is where Work and Income reduces or cancels your main benefit because it believes you haven’t complied with your obligations, such as work-test requirements or your “social obligations” as a parent.

The process that Work and Income must follow

Social Security Act 2018, ss 252 – 254, 256

Work and Income must follow a set process when imposing sanctions. This includes:

  • notifying you in writing, at least five working days before they take the particular action
  • 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.

Outstanding arrest warrants: Power to cut benefits

Social Security Act 2018, ss 209–216

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:

  • No public risk – If a warrant for your arrest is still outstanding 28 days after it was issued, Work and Income will be informed. Work and Income will then notify you, giving you 10 working days to resolve the situation (for example, if you’re not in fact the person named in the warrant) or else your benefit will be stopped.
  • Risk to public safety – If the police tell Work and Income that they believe you are a risk to public safety, Work and Income can stop your benefit immediately, without having to notify you in advance. The police officer who signs the written request to Work and Income must be at the level of inspector or higher.

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

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 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.

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top