Couple on benefits since 1984

Last updated 05:00 22/12/2009
Darryl Harris
Darryl Harris
Opinion poll

Are you, or have you ever been, a beneficiary?

Yes - it is an invaluable lifeline

Yes - and I've abused the system

Yes - but I'm not comfortable with handouts

No - I'm philosophically opposed

No - but I'm glad the safety net is there

Vote Result

Relevant offers


Winston Peters laughs at media covering his Twitter 'gaffe' David Slack: 'I was holding a beer when the revolution started' Stacey Kirk: Steven Joyce slams cash-laden briefcase on table - no room for a sly envelope Winston Peters accidentally shares social media search on himself, or does he? Election 2017: Blood in the political waters opens the door for an upset Here are the numbers, what about the vision 'We are owed something out here' - Poto Williams in Christchurch East Government tops up Southern Response funding to $1.5b We run the ruler over the Government's family income package Budget 2017: Nine years of spending under National

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is vowing to crack down on benefit abuse after revelations a Christchurch beneficiary family with gang connections has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over 25 years.

Information obtained by The Press shows Marcia Harris and her husband, former gang leader Darryl Harris, have claimed unemployment and sickness benefits continuously since 1984.

They are one of about 300 couples who draw about $1000 a week in benefits from the taxpayer and are the subjects of a government audit.

They have four children, three of whom are also drawing benefits.

In addition, they have received $30,000 in special-needs grants since 2000, including $16,000 in the past two years.

Among the successful applications were grants to put new tyres on the couple's 2007 silver Chrysler saloon and to fence a swimming pool at one of several properties the family owns in Christchurch.

The couple claimed they needed to sell the property and could not do so unless the pool was properly fenced.

Recent efforts to cancel Darryl Harris' sickness benefit failed after he obtained a medical opinion stating he was addicted to cannabis.

The opinion was from one of Work and Income's "designated doctors" after the agency appealed against a medical opinion that Harris was suffering from "stress and anxiety" over being work-tested.

The designated-doctor scheme was introduced this year in a bid to curb the growing number of sickness beneficiaries listing drug and alcohol abuse as the primary reason for being unable to work, which is up 17 per cent on 3842 last year.

This year Marcia Harris was ordered to repay some benefits granted by Work and Income, including one to pay for her car to be released after being impounded. She was driving without a licence at the time.

Work and Income paid for the family to spend 10 nights at a Christchurch hotel, the Towers on the Park, in 2007 after their Islington home burnt down, a review of the family's case found.

Since then the family has been transferred to a special "remote monitoring" unit. The unit deals with Work and Income clients deemed too dangerous for face-to-face meetings with staff.

The grants have continued, with three of the six special-needs grants applied for last month by the Harris family accepted by Work and Income.

"It's absolutely wrong. New Zealanders should know what the system is doing," one source close to the case told The Press.

Ad Feedback

Work and Income "has tried everything this year and nothing's worked, so your tax dollars are going for him [Darryl Harris] to smoke dope", the source said.

Bennett said she believed Work and Income was doing its best with the tools it had, but it did not have the mechanisms to address the hardest cases.

"New Zealanders expect two things of the welfare system – that it supports people who really need a hand and that it is fair," she said. "Unfortunately, there are cases that prove to us that as it stands, the system isn't always fair."

Bennett said she planned to introduce pledges made by National during last year's election campaign but shelved this year because of the recession.

They include work-testing for domestic purpose beneficiaries whose youngest child has turned six, compulsory budgeting advice sessions for beneficiaries who claim frequent grants, and part-time work obligations for some sickness and invalid beneficiaries.

The Government plans to suspend or reduce benefits for those who refuse to comply with requests to attend work interviews or take up work opportunities.

The Harris family did not answer the door yesterday when a reporter called at their home for comment.

- The Press

Special offers
Opinion poll

Should the speed limit be raised to 110kmh on some roads?



Vote Result

Related story: 110kmh limit moves closer

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content