Three more WINZ staff have been fired following a review of Work and Income staff that suggests as many as one-tenth of staff may be inappropriately accessing beneficiaries' details.
An agency-wide review was ordered in the wake of Fairfax revelations in December that five staff had lost their jobs at the WINZ 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 front-line staff.
No criminal activity was detected but nine staff were found to have breached the code of conduct.
Three staff nationwide 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 were low-level and 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 staff members were low-level breaches - one person had changed a family member's address on their file - and staff were issued warnings.
Labour Social Development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the results were ''pretty alarming''.
''I'm surprised that with a random stock-take they would pick up nine people warranting a warning.
She also disagreed with 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 WINZ 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.
Power said that action and the subsequent review had been educational for WINZ staff.
''Existing staff education and awareness programme on the protection of client information will be strengthened (and)...comprehensive audits and checks on staff accessing information will continue.''
''I want both staff and members of the public to be left in no doubt about the importance of this crucial issue. The dismissals send a crystal-clear warning of the tough approach the Ministry will continue to adopt around the safeguarding of client information,'' Power said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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