More than 70 Bay of Plenty people have their benefits cut for failing to clear arrest warrants each year.

Ministry of Social Development figures show 87 benefits were suspended due to warrants to arrest last financial year in the Ministry's Bay of Plenty region. There were 74 in the previous financial year.

In the current financial year to December, 57 benefits have been suspended for arrest warrants.

Te Tuinga Whanau support service executive director Tommy Wilson said taking away somebody's ability to feed their family only compounded their problems. Social services should instead help beneficiaries face their challenges, including arrest warrants.


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"If you can proactively engage with these people and work through the reasons or the circumstances then you stop them disconnecting even further," he said.

Mr Wilson said advocates couldn't help those facing benefit cuts as much as they wanted to until more resources were allocated to the front line.

"If you reconfigure the existing resources and put it to the front line, and take it away from the backyard bureaucrats who don't know about the front line ... then I totally believe we can make huge inroads into the problems we're facing as a country."

Te Tuinga Whanau social service manager Piki Russell said it would be great if people came to the service before matters reached crisis point. Too many didn't approach the organisation until they had no home, were at risk of losing their home or had no food, and had exhausted all other avenues.

"Everybody has the ultimate belief that it will get better, but it doesn't get better. The longer they leave it, the worse that it gets."

She said many people who came to the service didn't know their rights or what they were entitled to: "In the engagement, we teach them to take care of themselves."

The policy of cutting payments to those with outstanding arrest warrants was introduced in 2013.

The Ministry's deputy chief executive, service delivery, Ruth Bound, said a warrant to arrest must remain unresolved for 28 days for a benefit to be suspended. It would not be suspended if the warrant was resolved or the client had taken reasonable steps to resolve it.

Data showed 307 warrants to arrest were cleared in the Bay of Plenty last financial year compared to 253 the previous year and 217 in the current financial year to December. The warrant may have been cleared before or after suspension.

Ms Bound said the majority of those who had a warrant to arrest cleared it within 28 days and did not have their benefit suspended.

Nationally, 956 benefits were suspended due to a warrant to arrest last financial year, up on 902 the previous year.

Ms Bound said no more than 50 per cent of the benefit would be stopped for clients with dependent children. For couples, payment would be stopped for the client with the outstanding warrant and the remaining portion paid to their partner.