Benefit numbers in the Bay of Plenty have decreased 8.2 per cent since March 2014, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says.

Figures released today show numbers of people on all benefits in the area covered by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council have decreased from 23,340 in March 2014 to 21,418 in March 2016.

Mrs Tolley said Auckland and Bay of Plenty saw the largest annual decrease, with 8.3 per cent and 8.2 per cent falls in Sole Parent Support numbers.

Mrs Tolley said the number of people receiving a main benefit nationally had fallen below 280,000 for the first time since 2008.

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"The number of people receiving a main benefit has fallen by 4,369 (1.5 per cent) in the year to March 2016, taking the total number of people receiving a main benefit to 279,891.

"Those receiving Sole Parent Support continue to drive the biggest reduction in numbers, with a drop of 3,986 (or 5.7 per cent).

"There has also been a significant decrease of 12.3 per cent in those Sole Parent Support recipients who only have work preparation obligations, rather than obligations to look for part-time work.

"This is a positive sign prior to the increased obligations for sole parents, and partners of other beneficiaries, which came into effect on 1 April as part of the $790 million Child Hardship Package announced in Budget 2015.

"This includes an expectation that sole parents and partners of beneficiaries look for part-time work of 20 hours a week when their youngest child turns 3, instead of 5.

"We know that children who grow up in benefit dependent homes have poorer outcomes which is why we're focused on supporting more parents into work."