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Trouble with Work and Income: Penalties, investigations and overpayments

Being accused of benefit fraud: Work and Income investigations

When will Work and Income investigate a beneficiary?

The Fraud Investigations team at Work and Income investigates 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 Inland Revenue shares income information with Work and Income (see: “Information sharing and matching between Work and Income and other government agencies”). Work and Income may also randomly select cases for investigation, or they may simply have a suspicion that a beneficiary is not entitled to what they are receiving.

What is relationship debt sharing?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 291, 360, 361

Work and Income can investigate and prosecute both the client and their partner for benefit fraud if they investigate and can show that the partner knew about and benefited from the 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.

The investigation process

Social Security Act 2018, ss 6, 411–415, Sched 1, cl 10, Sched 2, Sched 6, cls 2–8

Work and Income have a very specific code of conduct relating to the investigation process.

The investigation unit must begin the investigation by giving you written notice at least 5 working days in advance (with the ability to extend if you need more time), so that you have time to provide them with the information they’re seeking. This information can include, for example:

  • bank records
  • employment details
  • copies of any contracts – for example, with phone and power companies
  • tenancy agreements
  • school enrolment records.

Work and Income must start by asking you to provide this information. If you don’t respond within a reasonable time period (taking into account all your current life circumstances), and they have tried all avenues of getting the information from you including calling and emailing you, then they can request the information directly from a third party (for example, your employer, the bank, or the police). There are limitations on the types and breadth of information they can request from different parties. To download a copy of their Code of Conduct, go to Work and Income’s website, here (or got to workandincome.govt.nz and search “How to avoid benefit and housing fraud”).

However, Work and Income can go directly to a third party without asking you for the information first if they have reasonable grounds to believe that asking you directly could get in the way of the investigation (“prejudice the maintenance of the law”).

Note: If Work and Income tell you that they’re beginning an investigation, you should get advice and assistance immediately from a benefit-rights group or Community Law Centre (see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page)

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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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