WINZ hotel debt can be wiped, but only in exceptional circumstances - Minister
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has confirmed the debt incurred by homeless Kiwis put up in hotels can be wiped.
Homeless Kiwi families have racked up huge amounts of debt from being put up by WINZ in hotels and motels as emergency accommodation which they have to pay back.
Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) currently have the sparing discretion to do this in "exceptional circumstances", Tolley said.
It would apply "where there's a genuine reason that they've suddenly found themselves in a crisis situation".
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That criteria did not include situations where people were homeless due to not being able to pay their rent, or for making methamphetamine in their house.
The fact Housing New Zealand did not have enough housing supply was not a "genuine reason" to wipe the debt.
What about bankruptcy? The minister didn't think so, but had to check.
"There's some quite specific criteria that the social workers use, [and] the case managers use."
PETITION GIVEN TO MINISTER
Action Station members Kyle MacDonald and Marianne Elliot met with the minister to present more than 9200 signatures in favour of wiping the debt.
Tolley said they talked about the "difficulties" of getting rid of the debt.
MacDonald said it was a "good start" that the Minister would look into considering the options.
"Lots of people feel very passionate about the plight our fellow New Zealanders are finding themselves in," he said.
The total amount of debt beneficiaries owed to Work and Income was more than $417 million.
The Ministry of Social Development could not define how much was from emergency accommodation.
Social Housing deputy chief executive Carl Crafar said the analysis would take time.
"We are continuing to conduct analysis of the highest debts owed to Work and Income, however these debts are made up of several components – and further detail can only be obtained by looking into individual files.
"As part of the $41 million emergency housing announcement made last Monday, a new dedicated special needs grant that does not need to be paid back will allow us to track emergency housing need much more accurately."
That announcement would be implemented in September, and would allow those who had to be put up in hotels and motels to be funded for seven days.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox backed the petition, and went further, wanting the debt retrospectively wiped.
"WINZ already have the discretion to eliminate the debt, to eradicate the debt that people carry from emergency housing because of the lack of provision of housing in this country.
"They should enact that discretion now and they should not be letting people walk into winter...under the impression of more debt and hardship adding already to their growing burden.
"We think that the September announcement should be retrospective, and it should cover all debt for housing provisions where the Government have been unable to house these people because of a lack of housing availability."