Beneficiaries have overtaken Asians as the group New Zealanders consider to be the most discriminated against.
A UMR Research survey of 750 people, commissioned by the Human Rights Commission has found 74 per cent of people think beneficiaries are facing discrimination.
Asians, who have ranked at the top of the list since at least 2003, were second at 72 per cent.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said it was a change, but nothing to celebrate.
"Asian-New Zealanders have been at the top of this list every year. That's been a fairly consistent piece of data.
"But it gives me no joy to see one replace another if they're at that level.
"I'm against discrimination full-stop - whether it's against beneficiaries, Asians or anyone else, we would hope that we can continue to reduce it."
Welfare reforms could have raised the profile of beneficiaries, Mr de Bres said.
The high scores on the survey were at least an acknowledgement that there was a problem, he said.
"We know from the perceptions of discrimination survey that most New Zealanders can see that. Maybe it's a good fact that people are aware of it. The challenge is still to deal with it."
It was too early to call a trend, but the perception of discrimination against Asian people had fallen 2 per cent.
"Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and Indian cultures and festivals have been made more open to the general public. There's a lot of integrative work to celebrate diversity.
"This is at least a sign that the kind of prejudice that Asian people have experienced in larger numbers in recent years is on the wane."
But the survey was not necessarily showing the whole picture. There were other groups facing systemic discrimination, he said.
"This is about personal discrimination, and systemic discrimination is harder to pin down - and may be more widely experienced by Maori and Pacific Island people."
Beneficiary Advocacy Federation spokeswoman Kay Brereton said the discrimination against beneficiaries was severe - they could be left out of social groups and feel potential employers would not take them seriously.
"Beneficiaries are facing quite significant discrimination - they have been attacked, really, from all sides," Ms Brereton said.
"I'm proud of New Zealand to have recognised that discrimination."
The Human Rights Commission received 573 complaints about unlawful discrimination, incitement and harassment on the grounds of race, colour, ethnicity or national origin in 2012.
A Statistics NZ report in 2012 found 6 per cent of respondents had faced racial discrimination in the previous 12 months.