More than 21,000 beneficiaries have had their benefits cut for going on unapproved overseas trips in the last nine months.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has released the first figures since new rules were introduced under which beneficiaries who are expected to be job hunting can not receive a benefit while overseas, unless the trip is for compassionate or health reasons. Where travel is allowed, benefits will only be paid for up to 28 days.
Since the rules kicked in on 15 July last year, about 21,000 people have had their benefits cut for taking overseas trips - adding up to $10.5 million.
The figure includes about 1,750 people who went on more than one trip - 191 went on three trips during that period. About 11,200 were on the Jobseekers benefit while 4,800 were single parents. Ms Bennett said the figures were "staggering.''
"The new rules recognise beneficiaries should be ready and available for work - not prioritising travel. Every day we hear stories of how people cannot live on the benefit. Today you're hearing that literally thousands can not only live on it but can afford to travel overseas as well.''
The rule is monitored by information sharing between Customs and the Ministry of Social Development. Almost 5000 people have also had their benefits cut off completely because they had not contacted Work and Income within eight weeks of leaving the country.
Under the rules, beneficiaries in the 'Job Seeker' category can only go overseas if it is for compassionate or health reasons. Beneficiaries who do not have work obligations, such as single parents with very young children, can go overseas for up to 28 days a year without their benefit being suspended.
If Work and Income has not been told of a proposed overseas trip, that person's benefit will be will be stopped immediately.