Three more Work and Income staff have been fired after a review that suggests as many as one-tenth of staff may be inappropriately accessing beneficiaries' details.
A review was ordered after Fairfax revelations in December that five staff had lost their jobs at the Manukau office, some for allegedly selling client details to debt collection agencies.
The report, Misuse of Client Information - Review of Work and Income Staff, obtained under the Official Information Act, said the department had audited a random sample of 100 of the 2400 front-line staff around New Zealand.
Nine staff were found to have breached the code of conduct, though no criminal activity was detected.
Three staff were fired as a result for:
- Emailing their partner, who did not work for the ministry , and telling them someone they knew had applied for a benefit.
- Emailing a friend in another government department about a client.
- Accessing and processing records of people the staff member knew, though not with any effect on benefit entitlement or financial gain.
Work and Income head Debbie Power said although the incidents would not have resulted in harm to anyone, they were nevertheless "intolerable and extremely disappointing".
"While no criminal behaviour or fraud was identified, these staff had accessed client information they weren't entitled to, written inappropriate emails and in two instances passed client information to a third party.
"In one case this was with the staff member's partner, in the other, a former staff member."
The report said the other six breaches were low-level - one person had changed a family member's address on their file - and staff were issued warnings.
Labour's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, said the results were alarming. "I'm surprised that with a random stock-take they would pick up nine people warranting a warning.
She also disagreed with Ms Power's assertion that "this was not a widespread or systemic problem".
"For Work and Income to respond in that way suggests they have a tolerance level, and there should be no tolerance.
"They deal with people when they are at their most vulnerable and people taking advantage of that is [intolerable]."
The report comes on the heels of allegations that Immigration staff have also been inappropriately accessing clients' information.
The status of the original, allegedly criminal, information violations at Manukau Work and Income is not known, but the report said a number of staff were pursuing the matter and had raised personal grievances in relation to their firing.
Ms Power said that action and the subsequent review had been educational for staff.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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