A solo Dunedin mother who fled an abusive relationship in Australia says she never would have left had she known the lack of support government services would give her baby.

Natalie (name changed to protect identity) said she left a well-paid job with her 4-month-old daughter, two suitcases and $150 last year.

Since arriving back in Dunedin, where she was born, she had slept in her car twice because Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) did not provide emergency housing, she said.

"On four occasions over the first three weeks, I went into Winz South Dunedin explaining the situation.


"The first two times they told me the manager would not approve emergency accommodation."

After her third visit she stayed in a tent with her daughter for two days at Tahuna motor camp .

When staying in a tent became too difficult, she tried staying with her friends and family.

A third request for housing was declined.

"This time I had enough; my daughter and I slept in the car for two nights and showered at Moana Pool."

In November, Natalie applied for a state house, but was given a "B" rating on the waiting list.

MP Clare Curran, who supported Natalie to find accommodation, was shocked.

"In her case she had a very small child, she clearly did not have family support, she had no money and nowhere to live.


"How desperate do you have to be to qualify for a state house?"

Ministry of Social Development southern regional director Teesh Payn said Housing New Zealand encouraged people to contact it if their situation changed and the organisation would "review their application".

When Natalie went to Winz a fourth time and was declined emergency accommodation, she hit "rock bottom".

"I ended up in the gutter outside crying, with my baby in the pram."

After staying at a friend's house in the lounge for the next eight weeks with her daughter in a portable cot, Natalie found private accommodation.

She had applied for 12 rental properties through different agencies.

She was now studying and her daughter was in daycare. However, she felt she had been failed.

"I approached Winz for advice on studying a business diploma and got the response in a degrading manner: 'What's the point in studying that? What kind of job is that going to get you?'."

Ms Payn offered an apology to Natalie for any distress the organisation caused.

"We may ask for further information about the course a person is studying, so we can look at any additional assistance they may need ..."

Natalie said the treatment she experienced prompted her to consider returning to Australia.

"I've worked hard all my life, often working two jobs at a time.

"If I'd known it would be this hard to support my baby, I would have just stayed in my relationship and dealt with the consequences."

She hoped to raise awareness about "the truly horrible struggle to get support".

Ms Curran said Natalie had been "absolutely let down by the system".

Today, Natalie and her daughter live off the solo parent benefit and have $480 a week to cover rent, food, bills and clothing.

While they had a roof over their heads, the stigma she felt through her contact with Work and Income and Housing New Zealand was yet to go, she said.

"I have a baby; I'm not trying to take advantage of the system. I've never been on a benefit before ...

"I'm just wanting temporary help to get myself set up with the basics."

- Otago Daily Times