Benefits cancelled for fraud

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 07/08/2014

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More than 900 people in the South Island have had their benefits cancelled as the Government cracks down on welfare fraud.

Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows released figures yesterday showing that the Government had cancelled more than 6900 benefits throughout the country, prosecuted 893 people, and recouped or saved more than $47 million.

The figures included 929 cancellations in the South Island between July 1, 2013, and May 22 this year, and $6.3m of overpayments.

In Canterbury, 368 benefits were cancelled and $3.6m of overpayments were established.

"These are not people being kicked to the kerb - they are people who are working, and earning enough money that they are no longer eligible for the benefit, who have failed in their obligation to tell us this has occurred," Borrows said.

The crackdown followed the Government's introduction of new measures to "get smarter" about dealing with welfare fraud, including enhanced information sharing between Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development, which had already saved $44.8m in future welfare payouts.

A further $3m had also been recovered from $88.4m in overpayments made throughout the country.

Other measures included stricter monitoring of nearly 2000 beneficiaries previously found to have been fraudulent or dishonest.

The group continued to be monitored, but no further offending had been discovered.

Borrows said the reforms were aimed at ensuring the benefit system was there for those who needed it.

Labour Social Development spokeswoman Sue Moroney questioned how much the crackdown had cost taxpayers.

"I think given the amount of investment that is going into this area, it's not a great result," she said.

The Government uncovered $39m of welfare fraud in 2011, before the new measures were introduced - only $8m less than what was established during the 2013-14 year.

"I don't know that we're any further forward."

Moroney said welfare fraud was an important issue, but corporate tax evasion was a much bigger concern for New Zealand tax payers, having cost them at least $1 billion in 2011 alone.

"We would like to see the Government put this amount of effort into corporate tax fraud," she said.

SOUTH ISLAND WELFARE CHEATS

October 2013: Angela Martha Becker (also known as Annette), 47, of Christchurch, was jailed for three years on benefit fraud charges involving $270,000. Becker conned ACC, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development into providing simultaneous support, including payments for fictitious carers.

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July 2013: Beverley Anne Malzard, 54, of Christchurch, admitted charges of fraud against the Ministry of Social Development and Housing NZ Corporation totalling $274,591. She was sentenced in December 2013 to 28 months' jail.

January 2013: Balclutha couple Leslie Patricia Tataurangi, 50, and Perry Hill, 57, admitted defrauding the Government of more than $175,000 during 24 years by lying to the Government about their relationship. Tataurangi was given 12 months' home detention and 400 hours' community work, but Hill died before the May 2013 sentencing.

- The Press

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