Govt paid, took, dead mum's money

By Lindy Laird of the Northern Advocate -
Members of the Dunn whanau, including occupants James, second from right and Raymond Dunn, right, in the Otangarei home the two brothers face eviction from. Photo / Northern Advocate
Members of the Dunn whanau, including occupants James, second from right and Raymond Dunn, right, in the Otangarei home the two brothers face eviction from. Photo / Northern Advocate

A family ordered to leave their late mother's state house says government agencies paid her benefit and collected her rent for four months after she died.

Northland man Raymond Dunn said his mother Rina Dunn's Work and Income benefit ceased only weeks ago.

The family is still occupying the Whangarei house in defiance of a chain of eviction notices served by Housing New Zealand since Mrs Dunn died on March 21.

Until two weeks before the last deadline of August 13, the rent was being paid from Mrs Dunn's benefit, which Work and Income had not cut off, Mr Dunn said.

He was disgusted that the Government could pay as well as take his late mother's benefit for that length of time, he said.

"That's two Government departments. Winz [sic] was paying a dead woman's benefit for four months after she died and Housing New Zealand was happy to take the rent all that time, knowing the tenant was dead,'' he said last week.

"They're saying we have no right to stay in this house and they have to get in here and refurbish because they say it's not habitable, but they allowed our mother to live in this house and never came to fix things when we asked, or put the things in place a sick woman needed ...

"But they were happy to take her money then and they carried on taking it after she was dead.''

A Ministry of Social Development spokesman said data-matching failed at times. The Deceased Persons' Data Match was a weekly match against the death records held with the Department of Internal Affairs.

In most cases, funeral directors, family members or an executor notify the ministry (under which Work and Income operates) of the death.

"The ministry only responds to those cases where [it] has not already been notified of a death. These payments are not mistaken or fraudulent. These are simply cases where a person has died and payment has continued beyond the date of their death for a short period of time,'' the spokesman said.

The ministry usually tried to recoup money mistakenly paid after death, often working with the family on a repayment plan that did not cause more hardship. In some circumstances the money would be written off.

Privacy issues prevented the spokesman speaking about the Dunns' case.

Housing NZ would not confirm whether arrears were now due on the Dunn house; nor would it comment on what steps it might take to remove the Dunns.

Mr Dunn said it was unlikely the family, which has been living rent-free in the house, would pay the rent because they were not legal tenants and Housing NZ refused to transfer tenancy to them.

Such a transfer would breach a Tenancy Act amendment designed to prevent families inheriting state house tenancy, Housing NZ said.

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