Just over $26.5 million has been paid out in extra grants to cash-strapped Western Bay families over the past five years.

The total amount paid for special needs grants, recoverable assistance grants and recoverable benefit advances increased year-on-year in 2015 to $5.199m, but this was still down on the $5.534m paid out in 2011. The latter two categories require recipients to pay the money back.

Ruth Bound, the Social Development Ministry's deputy chief executive of service delivery, said Work and Income focused on assisting people to manage their costs in the longer term, not just on helping with their immediate needs.

"It's important to understand why the client cannot meet their costs to provide the most appropriate form of assistance. The applicant also has an obligation to manage their own finances with help from Work and Income. This may include seeking financial advice from budgeting services."


Tauranga Budget Advisory Service co-ordinator Diane Bruin said a number of people needing extra help went directly to Work and Income for assistance.

"The ones we see needed to provide a budget as they may have had assistance previously, and also need to start working with a budgeter to manage their income in the future."

Mrs Bruin said people applied for extra grants for a raft of reasons, including food grants.

"While we can refer them to the Foodbank for a food parcel, a food grant enables needy people to stock their pantry from a supermarket," she said.

Mrs Bruin said the service saw 1600 clients on average a year, of whom about 10 per cent need to apply for this sort of extra assistance.

That included help to pay overdue power bills, rent arrears, housing bonds, for whiteware, and car repairs so the client can get to their work, she said. Mrs Bruin said numbers needing extra grants had remained relatively stable in the last few months, but some people went directly to Work and Income.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social services manager Pikiteora Russell said the grants may have gone up due to increased awareness about what people could access.

Often they advised clients to use a non-recoverable food grant to pay for something else - "it is a budgetary requirement".

She had also noticed an increase in applications for "people fixing their cars and for emergency accommodation".

However, she said the biggest one "is power, it's crazy".

"Nine times out of 10 if it's a credit problem and their power is cut off, they can't get another power company so it's getting the funds to pay for that power bill."

NZ Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams said: "From a taxpayer's perspective there is an expectation that people assisted should repay these grants when they can afford to do so. We don't think that's an unreasonable expectation."