The private details of more than 1600 Work and Income clients are passed to private research companies every month.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked her ministry to investigate after a domestic abuse victim was cold-called at home.
It comes after a damning report this week into a massive privacy breach at ACC identified an "almost cavalier" attitude towards claimants and their personal details.
Work and Income national commissioner Carl Crafar confirmed that each month 1675 clients who had contact with the service were interviewed by a survey agency about their experiences.
"We're disappointed that a client has been distressed during this process," he said.
"While we have very robust protocols in place around the surveys, the last thing we want to do is cause distress to clients. We are taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen to clients in a similar situation again."
Green Party income support spokeswoman Jan Logie wrote to Mrs Bennett earlier this month, after the "very distressed" woman contacted her office.
The woman had previously visited a Work and Income office and disclosed her history to a case worker, explaining that her ex-partner had been freed from prison after serving a sentence for attempted murder.
The woman is vigilant around her safety, secrecy about her where she lives and has an unlisted phone number.
She was called at home by a man who said he was conducting a survey to ascertain if she was happy with her experience with the agency. He knew her name and had information about her, Ms Logie said.
"She had had no preparation for this; that's incredibly distressing for her and potentially unsafe."
Ms Logie was concerned that the households of domestic abuse victims who had not left their partners might be contacted.
She questioned the safety of information held by a third party research company. All clients should be informed about the survey, she said.
"Work and Income may say they have got an agreement with this research company and they are abiding by Work and Income standards but unless you have got those same monitoring systems in place for the staff of that company as you do for Work and Income, you can't assure that woman of safety," she said.
In a letter of reply, Mrs Bennett said she was "concerned" to hear of the case and had asked chief executive Brendan Boyle to "look into avoiding this from happening again in the future".
Mr Crafar said clients with safety concerns would now be asked if they wanted to be excluded from the surveys. Their details would be flagged in the system and not passed to survey companies.
Strict confidentiality and privacy rules were built into the contract with the survey agency "and no information about the client's income levels, work or personal history is provided".
No information about the client was provided to any other person who answered the phone, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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