Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Ministry to tackle carer support fraud

Changes to support payments are being make in order to tackle the fraud problem. Photo / Thinkstock
Changes to support payments are being make in order to tackle the fraud problem. Photo / Thinkstock

Changes to carer support payments are being considered to tackle a fraud problem that has cost the health system more than $1 million in the past four years.

Details released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Health has successfully prosecuted more than 70 people falsely claiming taxpayer-funded care subsidies since 2008, involving more than 1100 charges.

The carer support subsidy is paid by the ministry to assist unpaid, full-time carers of disabled people to take a break. Support carers are paid $64.50 for 24 hours' relief.

Ministry of Health audit and compliance investigations manager Dave Landreth said there were two main types of carers - "formal" carers, typically rest homes or other professional organisations, and "informal" carers, usually family members or friends. It was the latter category that featured most prominently in fraud statistics.

Mr Landreth had seen a case where multiple "carers" were claiming support for two to three different people, all revealed to be a sham.

But carer support fraud was seldom elaborate.

"It's not like they set up secret companies and all sorts of things like that ... generally speaking, they just tell lies on the forms."

Mr Landreth said those receiving carer support were first assessed as eligible for Disability Support Services.

The assessment process had not changed, but regular internal meetings with staff from the carer support payment processing centre were being held to identify improvements and how to reduce the risk of fraud.

Carer support guidelines had not been updated since 2005, and Disability Support Services would consider ways to improve them in the next two years.

Mr Landreth's branch ran a tip-off line for callers to dob in fraudsters and an audit programme that targeted "specific areas of concern" - however he could not reveal what these were.

Carer support was a good way of giving people a break from looking after disabled people - "but there is an opportunity for unscrupulous people to manipulate it to commit fraud".

Since 2008, nearly 100 people have been identified in 50 fraud investigations, totalling $1,142,870 in payments.

Seventy-seven people had been convicted, while four were found not guilty.

Seven cases involving 18 people, 394 charges and nearly $276,000 were still before the courts.

They include that against Auckland DHB health promotion adviser Sione Tupou, his wife, Meliko, and their daughter Akosita. Meliko Tupou is the full-time carer for a close family member with a disability, and daughter Akosita Tupou is the support carer.

But investigators have alleged Akosita Tupou, 32, lived in the same Meadowbank house as her mother, father and the family member they care for, in breach of the rules.

Sione Tupou is to next appear at Auckland District Court in August.

In other cases, Maungatapere couple Donna and Brian Gainford were ordered to pay back $11,851 in April following a fraud investigation.

The ministry, which received 24 carer-support claim forms each seeking reimbursement to Mrs Gainford because she had paid the carers from her own funds, got a tip-off last year that she had submitted claims in her maiden name for carers who did not exist.

- NZ Herald

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