Privacy issues could mean hundreds of thousands of self-employed and sole trader claimants of the employer wage subsidy are never publicly identified despite the potential for fraudulent claims to slip through.
Latest Ministry of Social Development figures show it had approved 426,838 claims for the employer wage subsidy as of April 24, paying out $10.5 billion.
Of those who received it, 213,599 were self-employed resulting in a payout of between $897 million and $1.5b depending if they claimed for a fulltime or part-time subsidy.
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A search function set up on the MSD website allows employees to find out if their employer has received the 12-week subsidy and report it if it hasn't been passed on to them.
It has also revealed some companies who have raised eyebrows for claiming the wage subsidy while their businesses have continued to operate and even flourish.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor has asked government officials for extra policing of the sector after some primary sector companies made claims despite being allowed to operate during the lockdown.
Yesterday a number of major law firms also revealed they would be paying back the subsidy after receiving criticism for taking the money after years of strong growth saw them take rising profits over a numbers of years.
Some 800 complaints were made during the first nine days of payments. By April 24, more than $17 million had been repaid.
Robyn Walker, a tax partner at Deloitte, said the area of self-employed individuals had a lot more scope for fraud but also involved complexity when it came to checking eligibility and it would be costly to audit.
"You will possibly have people claiming to be self-employed, when in reality maybe they didn't have a business."
Walker said if it was a small business or new business then Inland Revenue may not have any data to confirm whether a business existed.
She said self-employed could also include a number of people who were working fulltime, but also had a side job like working for a ride-sharing company or renting out a property or room through an accommodation website.
"While in the context of employers receiving wage subsidies, the rules require that you only pay the named employees what they would ordinarily have earned if it was less than the wage subsidy amount, for self-employed people, they may have only been earning a very small amount of income ordinarily, but would have received the full wage subsidy amount (either $7029.60 or $4200)."
Walker said submission forms made it clear that applicants were giving permission for MSD to publish information about their business as well as the level and duration of any subsidy provided on a "publicly accessible register".
"...when people have applied for the wage subsidy, they should have read the declarations which were very clear that information about wage subsidy recipients was to be published."
Jayne Russell, group GM employment for MSD, said the current wage subsidy searchable database was not the complete list of employers.
"There is information about approximately 90,000 employers currently available via the tool. Due to the volume of data to be uploaded we have to do it in stages."
Russell said to date it had published information about employers who have three or more employees, which may include employers that are self-employed but employ others.
"There are a range of privacy and ethical issues associated with publishing the names of self-employed or sole traders who don't employ people, that we are still working through."
Russell said it was working closely with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner regarding whether it was appropriate to publish that information.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said it was aware that MSD was considering whether the details of self-employed individuals with no employees and sole traders who have received income support as part of the Covid-19 response should be published in the same way as that of companies that have received the wage subsidy.
"New Zealanders do not expect that their ACC entitlements, sickness benefits, accommodation supplements, unemployment benefits and Working For Families tax credits are published to the world.
"We have not seen any case for publishing support given to individuals as part of the pandemic response. If such a case is made, we will evaluate that and provide our advice to decision makers."
Privacy Foundation chairman Gehan Gunasekara said concerns had been raised with it about the issue and it had raised those concerns with MSD a couple of weeks ago.
"I have had further discussions with the ministry but I'm not at liberty to talk about that."
"We have been consulted."
But Gunasekara said as to what extent its concerns would be taken into account in the final decision had yet to be determined.
"It's a difficult issue, while we want transparency and to minimise double-dipping and fraud, on the other hand, it is sensitive information and these are people's livelihoods."
"There are arguments on both sides."