The Government has no idea how much money it lent to beneficiaries to stay in motels, the Ministry for Social Development has admitted.
It means there is no data which shows how much taxpayer money was borrowed by people on benefits and no broad understanding as to the level of need for emergency housing assistance.
It's a knowledge vacuum which has been criticised by social commentators and political opponents who have asked how the Government can manage the situation when it has no data to guide its decisions.
The Herald sought information from the Ministry after families needing housing were put in motels on condition they repaid the money. Some people were reported as racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Responding to the Herald's request for details about the motel policy, Ruth Bound, an MSD deputy chief executive, stated: "The Ministry is unable to break these amounts down by what the debt is made up of, where the client lived at the time, and the length of time this was accrued over as this information is held on individual files across multiple systems."
She was also unable to say the number of people who had received emergency housing loans.
The OIA response also revealed MSD staff had made no reports to its leadership team -- or to ministers - in the 18 months before the issue flared up in the media.
An MSD spokesman said there was now a commitment to develop an emergency housing model which targets funding and "allows us to track need far more effectively".
"It's either negligence or deliberate," said Child Poverty Action Group housing spokesman Frank Hogan. "Negligence in the failure to take the information or its done deliberately ... because it may be that New Zealand is scandalised at the necessity to supplement payment needs for our most vulnerable."
Labour's Carmel Sepuloni said solid data was needed and the lack of it was reflected in the Government being "all over the place on this issue".
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett have now moved to provide 3000 emergency housing places each year, putting up $41m over four years to contract emergency housing providers and to cover emergency housing grants.
Tolley said a new non-recoverable grant would help MSD "get a better idea of the level of debt clients have that relates to emergency housing".