Marriage to US pensioner cuts Kiwi's pension to $80 a week
A Christchurch man's pension was slashed to $80 a week after he married a US pensioner, forcing the couple to rely on food parcels for two months.
John Sinclair, 68, married Bona Sinclair, 70, in December 2015 and the couple lived "comfortably" on his fortnightly pension of $750 and her US social security payment of $1200 a month.
But in May, all of his entitlements were cut while the couple were on a holiday in the US paid for from Bona Sinclair's divorce settlement.
When they returned to New Zealand, a $26,000 bill was waiting for them from Work and Income for pension overpayments.
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John Sinclair said he was "dumbfounded", as they had declared his wife's income to Work and Income when they got married.
The couple have been fighting for an explanation for two months while trying to survive on the $55 they had left each week after paying rent.
Sinclair – who suffers from asthma, diabetes and pancreatitis – said the humiliation and stress of having nearly no income had brought him close to breaking point.
"I've always been proud of being a Kiwi . . . I'm bloody disgusted now."
The former taxi owner and driver, cook, foundry worker and McDonald's trainee manager said he could not believe what had happened.
Work and Income staff had no answers for them following their return from the US and said they were not even eligible for a food grant.
Sinclair said that was "the final straw" and he sought help from Christchurch East MP Poto Williams and her electorate office staff.
The couple's bill has since been waived and last week Sinclair had his pension re-instated, albeit vastly reduced. Instead of $750, he was now only entitled to $160 a fortnight – a drop of nearly 80 per cent.
In July, Sinclair's oldest son died in a car crash and he was forced to ask for a loan to cover the cost of petrol to attend the funeral in Dunedin.
His asthma has worsened significantly and he had a pancreatitis attack last week but has not gone to the GP.
"I should be able to cope with it . . . if it gets too bad I will have to go back. It makes me feel bloody useless."
Bona Sinclair said her husband had been "totally destroyed, mentally and physically" by the experience.
"I could not understand how the government can crucify a citizen of this country. I wasn't concerned about me, I was concerned about him, it was very unfair."
Her visitor visa expires on November 15 but it would be difficult to pay the $1300 application fee for a new visa given their reduced income, she said.
If she misses the deadline she will have to return to the US for three years.
"One option we've got is we get divorced and she goes back – now I don't want that to happen," John Sinclair said.
Ministry of Social Development general manager centralised services Lindsay Meehan said Sinclair's superannuation had been processed incorrectly when he married.
The ministry acknowledged the error and waived the $26,000 bill.
Meehan said under section 70 of the Social Security Act 1964, Bona Sinclair's US pension was treated as a direct deduction from her husband's New Zealand Superannuation.
"He is currently receiving his correct entitlement based on the information we have, however [he] is exercising his right to have this reviewed, which we are looking into."
John Sinclair said he was "utterly disgusted" by the treatment and had not received an apology from Work and Income.
"The way I see it is, regardless of what comes in to the house I'm still entitled to the pension.
"Just because I'm married, that shouldn't make any difference."
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