Benefit overpayment recovery rates are on the increase

The Ministry of Social Development is having increasing success getting benefit overpayments paid back.
Marion van Dijk

The Ministry of Social Development is having increasing success getting benefit overpayments paid back.

A record $2.21 million in overpayments was recovered from beneficiaries in the quarter to June 2015 - $1 million more than the previous three months.

However, a Hutt woman hit by a large overpayment debt is angry the Ministry of Social Development faces no repercussions from their botch-up.

Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew said greater information sharing between departments is increasing the  likelihood of early debt recovery. 

"We don't want families stuck in a debt trap for receiving payments they aren't  entitled to receive," she said.

That's all of little comfort to Isla Tristram, who came back from Australia in March this year to live in Lower Hutt.

The 69-year-old has been landed with a pension overpayment debt of $4,700.

Her father, 91, who has also come back to New Zealand so she can look after him, was hit with a $3000 overpayment debt from Australia's CentreLink, which handles superannuation across the Tasman.

Tristram said had been given no reason why there had been a NZ pension overpayment.

"We were checking in Australia that we were getting the right amount", she said.  

She received $349 a fortnight from WINZ, depending on the exchange rate, and $800  once a month from CentreLink, as well as an accommodation supplement of about  $60, Tristram said.

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Since WINZ and CentreLink are reciprocal, these payments should now be in reverse proportion.

However, she cannot receive the New Zealand pension and switch until the overpayment debt is paid back.

She is entitled to an Australian pension because she worked there for a significant  amount of time, she said.   

Tristram said she and her father could not get a Housing New Zealand unit and are now paying $335 a week for private rental, as well as paying off a bond.  

A Ministry of Social Development spokesperson refused to talk about Tristram's case in particular.

His general advice was that amounts received for  pensions was affected by a person's income and assets.

"It is not possible to advise the amount you will receive until you have been individually assessed".  

A letter notifying clients of debt contains an explanation of how an overpayment has been established, he said.

There are processes in place for considering whether a debt could be written off. Every overpayment debt is checked against criteria within the  Social Security Act, they said.

Goodhew said a total of $9.11 million in overpayments has been recovered since March 2013.

People who knowingly received benefits they knew they were not entitled to, usually because their cirumstances had changed, were also chased.

"Over the last  year 927 people have been successfully prosecuted and we are now working with  them to recover $32 million in taxpayer money," Goodhew said.

 The welfare fraud initiatives have contributed to saving an estimated $174.5 million of taxpayer money by cancelling over 10,200 unlawfully obtained benefits.

 - Hutt News

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