More needing advance payments

By Kim Fulton

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Whanganui beneficiaries are needing advance payments from Work and Income for essential costs such as schooling and healthcare - with almost $7 million handed out in the wider region last year.

The Ministry of Social Development could provide an advance payment to beneficiaries with an immediate need for essential items such as food, health costs, power and other costs.

Beneficiaries in the Whanganui, Taranaki and King Country region had 17,795 grants worth $6,824,777 approved last year, according to Ministry of Social Development figures.

Figures showed 1689 grants were for school and education costs, 1538 for medical and associated costs and 14,188 for other emergency situations.

Wanganui Budget Advisory Service co-ordinator Sandy Fage said she preferred beneficiaries approached Work and Income when something unexpected happened rather than another lender which might exploit them.

However, there was a limit on how much Work and Income could lend, and what for.

Many clients went to the budgeting service because they were required to set a financial plan before they could get an advance.

The service was seeing more people getting advances for power and rent arrears coming into winter. School uniforms were another cost people sought advances for, said Ms Fage.

"As much as we say ... you should know it's coming up and you should be saving, the reality is for many people on such a low income, to save up for that cost is just not going to happen."

Work and Income has negotiated a deal for affordable new whiteware for beneficiaries so they didn't have to spend their advances on second-hand equipment which might not last, she said.

Ms Fage suggested those on benefits should keep in regular contact with their case managers to ensure they knew what their entitlements were and check in with the budgeting service too.

The number of grants across the wider region has increased steadily in recent years. Beneficiaries in the Whanganui, Taranaki and King Country region had 16,039 grants approved in 2014 and 14,554 in 2013.

To qualify for the advance payment a client needed to have an immediate and essential need, meet hardship obligations including budgeting, meet an income and asset test and buy goods or services from a preferred supplier if an arrangement is in place.

Beneficiaries in the region had 724 applications for advance payments declined last year. Nationwide, beneficiaries received 313,334 grants worth $127,756,265 last year.

They had a further 18,187 requests declined. Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) co-ordinator Alastair Russell said significant numbers of people were unaware they were eligible for advances. AAAP held events to help people get what they were entitled to.

It saw 700 people at an event in Mangere in April and turned away more than 800 or 900.

"Those people were coming there desperate to access advance payments in significant numbers."

The people it did manage to see and got in front of Work and Income case managers accessed $850,000 worth of advance payments and other grants, which they were legally entitled to but had difficulty accessing without support.

Mr Russell said people drove from Whangarei, Tauranga, Thames and Hamilton for the event.

While the group was Auckland-focused, it was happy to talk to beneficiary groups and community groups elsewhere in New Zealand, he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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