Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

100 benefits cut every year

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Around 100 Northlanders have had their benefits suspended for failing to clear arrest warrants in each of the past two years and an advocate says the cuts are bad news for the community.

Ministry figures show 94 benefits were suspended due to a warrant to arrest last financial year, compared with 115 the previous financial year. In the current financial year to December, 57 benefits were suspended for arrest warrants.

One Double Five Community House and Taitokerau Community Law co-ordinator Carol Peters said the suspensions put vulnerable people in difficult situations.

"If you have your benefit stopped, you can't pay your rent, your family's thrown on the street. You are put in all sorts of other risky situations. Your children don't have access to food."

Benefit cuts were counterproductive and unhelpful in terms of rehabilitating people, she said.

"It's not just bad for those people, it's bad for everyone. When you have got people who are desperate in your community, it's bad for your community."

Ms Peters said police matters and social welfare matters should be kept completely separate.

"Social welfare is set up to support our community and make sure everyone has access to food and shelter. It's not there as an arm of the police force."

She saw a lot of people who had had their benefit cut for one reason or another and she knew how desperate they became.

"I believe it actually leads to more crime," she said.

The policy of cutting payments to those with outstanding arrest warrants was introduced in July 2013. Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive, service delivery, Ruth Bound, said a warrant to arrest must have remained unresolved for 28 days for a benefit to be suspended. It would not be suspended if the warrant was resolved or the client had taken reasonable steps to resolve it.

Data showed 329 Northland beneficiaries had warrants to arrest cleared in the current financial year to December, compared with 432 the previous year, and 234 in the current year to December. The warrant may have been cleared before or after suspension.

Ms Bound said the majority of those who had a warrant to arrest cleared it within 28 days and did not have their benefit suspended.

Nationally, 956 benefits were suspended because of a warrant to arrest in the past financial year, up on 902 the previous year. In the current financial year to December, 575 benefits were suspended.

Data showed 4520 warrants to arrest were cleared last financial year, compared with 4017 the previous year, and 2803 in the financial year to December.

Ms Bound said no more than 50 per cent of the benefit would be stopped for clients with dependent children. For couples, payment would be stopped for the client with the outstanding warrant, and the remaining portion paid to their partner.

- Northern Advocate

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