Paula Bennett has admitted that Work and Income may have paid airfares for some beneficiaries to take up job offers in Australia.

The Social Development Minister said she thought it had happened in "the odd times in extenuating circumstances" fewer than 10 times in five years.

She was seeking more details.

The transition to work grant had been paid 500,000 times since 2007 and it would take a manual search to pinpoint the occasions.


She said it was not the intention of the policy and that case managers were now aware they should not be paying for any airfares overseas.

Since September, approvals now had to be sent to head office rather than left to the discretion of case managers.

Ms Bennett made the admission in response to questions today by Labour's Jacinda Ardern who said she had been told about a meeting where Work and Income managers had confirmed such assistance had been given.

The average payment in $363 a week and can be used for clothing costs for an interview or childcare costs for an interview.

Asked by reporters when it might be appropriate to pay airfares she said "you might have a family member who is very sick, someone else that is going over there within that family for work and the partner to look after that sick person."

"We've got one case where someone had paid for their own tickets, was going over but needed a transition, a payment, because their benefit stopped before their pay [started]. They had children. I actually see them giving that child some sort of income in those few weeks in between as being perhaps extenuating circumstances.

She said she expected common sense to be applied in the use of the grant.

"I dont expect the transition to work payment to be used for airfares to Australia by any means but I cant guarantee it hasn't happened on the odd occasion."