Over 2400 benefits axed

A tough new policy that chops off welfare benefits for people with outstanding arrest warrants has netted more than 2400 cases since it came into force in July 2013.

The Ministry of Social Development says it suspended 22 NZ superannuation and veterans' pensions, and 2411 other benefits in the first two and a half years of the new policy up to the end of last December.

Suspensions have jumped from 75 a month in the first year of the new policy to 95 a month in the latest half-year.

The policy hit the headlines in January when Kaitaia war veteran Selwyn Clarke, 88, was forced to beg in the street after his pension was stopped because of a warrant for his arrest for trespass at Kaitaia Airport in a Ngati Kahu land protest occupation last September.

Mr Clarke's pension was restored in February after the local district court withdrew the warrant.

Ministry deputy chief executive Ruth Bound told NZME in response to an Official Information Act request that all 22 veterans' pensions and NZ super payments had now been restored.

But she said the ministry could not say how many of the other 2411 cancelled benefits have been restored.

The policy was part of a broader tightening of beneficiary obligations in July 2013, which also included drug tests for jobseekers and requirements for beneficiaries to enrol their children in preschool from age 3, ensure they attend school from age 5 or 6, enrol them with doctors and keep up with core health checks.

Mr Clarke was caught by it because he refused to recognise the Government's authority to charge him with trespass as the airport was on Ngati Kahu land.

In response to another Official Information Act request, District Courts general manager Tony Fisher said outstanding arrest warrants declined from 11,373 at the end of June 2013 to 9600 a year later, 9547 last June and 9445 in December.

The number of arrest warrants issued also declined. But warrants still outstanding fell even faster, from 3.28 times the number of warrants issued in the year to June 2013 to 2.67 times the number issued in the last half of 2015.

Auckland barrister and Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Graeme Minchin said the tough policy seemed to be working.

"I have had people who have gone AWOL and then turned up, and it's been because of their benefits being cut," he said.

But he said the policy gave the state too much power over beneficiaries.

"The suspension of benefits for policing purposes contradicts the purposes of the [Social Security] Act and is a dangerous step in the direction of totalitarianism," he said.

"It is an example which shows that beneficiaries are on the road to serfdom."


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