A Christian missionary has won the right to collect her New Zealand pension while overseas in a case that could lead to payoffs for other superannuitants.
However, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is considering appealing the court decision.
It comes as a retirement policy expert calls for the complex pension system to be overhauled as many New Zealand pensioners are losing out.
To qualify for superannuation you must have been living in New Zealand for more than 10 years since the age of 20, and five years since turning 50. However, time spent in missionary work, volunteering and serving in the armed forces are not counted under a special provision in the law.
Dawn Greenfield, based in Singapore for 19 years, wanted to continue missionary work with her husband past retirement age.
She returned to New Zealand to apply for superannuation when she turned 65 in February 2012.
MSD denied Greenfield the pension because it did not consider her settled in New Zealand, nor were her absences to do missionary work deemed temporary.
Greenfield's lawyer Peter McKenzie QC told the court MSD was wrong to try to differentiate between short-term and long-term missionary work. This approach "turned the legislation on its head", he told the court.
"If Mrs Greenfield has an unequivocal intention to return to New Zealand at a future point of time, then that suggests her current absence is only temporary."
High Court Justice David Collins ruled a New Zealander is someone who planned to return home, even if they remained overseas.
In his decision, Collins said MSD placed too much emphasis on Greenfield's time overseas, rather than her intentions. He ordered the Government to pay court costs.
The decision could have repercussions for other New Zealanders who want to continue their missionary or volunteer work overseas past retirement age.
McKenzie declined to comment while MSD decided whether to appeal the case.
Greenfield and her husband also declined to comment. MSD confirmed the Greenfield case is being reviewed and a decision on whether to appeal would be made later this month.
"With that in mind, it would be inappropriate to comment further on this individual case," senior service general manager Lindsay Meehan said.
Retirement legislation was aimed at ensuring those who spend their life working here are not disadvantaged compared to immigrants and people who have worked overseas, she said.
Meanwhile, Retirement Policy and Research Centre co-director Susan St John said that in some cases recent unemployed migrants to New Zealand have more rights to the pension than long-term residents.
"This is a very complex area with people having different patterns of mobility when they retire. It produces a lot of anomalies."
She said a foreign citizen can move to New Zealand and not work for 10 years but still qualify for the pension, while a New Zealand citizen may be treated more punitively.
For example retirees who spend their working life in New Zealand but marry someone with an overseas pension can lose part or all of their superannuation, she said.
"It's a shocking anomaly."
You should qualify for New Zealand superannuation if you: Are aged 65 or over and a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident normally and live in New Zealand at the time you apply.
You must also have been resident and present in New Zealand for at least 10 years since you turned 20 years of age, and five of those years must be since you turned 50.
Exceptions to the period of absence outside New Zealand include time spent having special medical or surgical treatment or doing vocational training working as a missionary; working with Volunteer Service Abroad; serving in the armed forces; working overseas and paid tax in New Zealand on the earnings; working on a NZ-owned or registered ship.
- Sunday Star Times