Canterbury's benefit cheats scam $1m
Canterbury beneficiaries prosecuted in the past year scammed more than $1 million in benefit payments, part of $32m that was overpaid to welfare cheats nationwide.
Figures obtained by The Press under the Official Information Act show 54 people were prosecuted in the Canterbury region in the 2012-13 financial year for beneficiary fraud.
The total value of the prosecutions was a whopping $1,344,875.
Ministry of Social Development (MSD) spokeswoman Iona Holsted said the largest prosecution in Canterbury was for a beneficiary who was overpaid more than $100,000.
"The individual convicted received an invalid's benefit for 12 years without declaring additional income," she said.
"As a result, the individual involved was sentenced to 12 months' home detention and 100 hours of community work in the Christchurch District Court."
This year, Beverley Anne Malzard, 54, of Canterbury admitted charges of fraud against the Ministry of Social Development and Housing NZ Corporation totalling $274,591.
Malzard has not yet been sentenced so Holsted said she would appear in the 2014 figures for benefit fraud.
The Canterbury region includes the Christchurch, Ashburton, Kaikoura and Timaru Work and Income sites.
Of those successfully prosected for benefit fraud in the area this year, two people received prison terms, six received home detention and 12 were sentenced to community detention.
A further 27 people received community work and supervision sentences, while many beneficiaries were also repaying the money they owed.
Nationwide, a total of 979 people were prosecuted for benefit fraud in the 2012-13 year.
The total value of the overpayments to people prosecuted was more than $32m, while the total value of new fraud debt established solely in the 2012-13 year was $26m.
Holsted said the ministry "did not tolerate benefit fraud".
"The ministry works hard to protect the integrity of the system to ensure it remains fair for all New Zealanders," she said.
"It is vital that the public has trust and confidence in the ministry to ensure people receive their correct entitlement and do not take advantage of the welfare system," Holsted said.
The ministry has a team of 90 specialist fraud investigators throughout the country, as well as a special intelligence unit which identified emerging fraud and trends.
It also used 11 data-matching programmes - in conjunction with seven government agencies, including Housing New Zealand, Inland Revenue and ACC - to identify potential fraud.
"We actively seek to prevent, detect and reduce incidences of benefit fraud and our systems are constantly improving to allow us to do this," Holsted said.
Associate Minister for Social Development Chester Borrows said fraud represented only 0.15 per cent of the $18 billion worth of income assistance administered to more than one million New Zealanders annually.
In February, he announced new measures to fight benefit fraud, including creating a new offence targeting partners or spouses of beneficiaries who are convicted of fraud and working with beneficiaries who had previously been dishonest with the ministry.
- In October, 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 support - including payments for fictitious carers - at the same time.
- In July, Beverley Anne Malzard, 54, of Christchurch, admitted charges of fraud against the Ministry of Social Development and Housing NZ Corporation totalling $274,591. Malzard was granted a domestic purpose benefit and did not report when she was working. Malzard claimed she was aware of her obligations but had not advised of her employment because she believed she was two separate people.
- In May, Woodville drug queen Jolene Rose was convicted for claiming a sickness and domestic purposes benefit while running a multimillion-dollar methamphetamine ring, selling cannabis and offering sexual services. She was jailed after she received $45,000 to which she wasn't entitled.
- In January, Eileen Farquer, 83, of Bay of Plenty pleaded guilty to five counts of benefit fraud. Using the name Lee J Strauss, she gained an unemployment benefit in 1987, and continued to receive benefits in that name until June 2012. She collected $215,000.
- In January, 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.
- In 2007, Wayne Thomas Patterson, 47, was failed after pleading guilty to 10 representative fraud charges after making up 123 false identities to con $3,414,425 out of the MSD.