Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent on unusual services or items such as hairpieces and vasectomies, a list of emergency grants paid out by Work and Income reveals.

Almost $33 million was paid in the first six months of the year for special-needs grants - one-off payments administered by Winz and available to struggling New Zealanders for "essential assistance to meet immediate needs". They do not have to be paid back.

Figures obtained by the Herald show payments included $7033 for 25 wigs or hairpieces, $6659 for 20 vasectomies and $247,137 for doctors' fees, including for the removal of birthmarks for two people.

The Ministry of Social Development information, obtained under the Official Information Act, also showed 10 people needed assistance for funerals, totalling $2710, while others were given money for effluent treatment at their homes, costing $46,273.


The largest amounts were $19 million for food and $6 million for emergency dental treatment.

A total of $1.2 million was given in grants to 3907 released prisoners in the form of the Steps to Freedom re-establishment grant.

A number of grants were paid for school-related expenses, including $64,614 for uniforms, $9638 for stationery and $1532 for administration or examination fees.

NZ First social policy spokeswoman Asenati Lole-Taylor said it was difficult to justify the amount of public money spent on vasectomies.

"Why should the population in New Zealand pay for something that is supposed to be a personal expense? It's astounding really.

"We're struggling with our economy at the moment ... yet our welfare system is handing out these grants for vasectomies and I can't see how that can be considered a priority."

Work and Income chief executive Debbie Power said the department contributed $300 towards vasectomy surgeries and associated costs such as travel and accommodation, depending on the applicants' finances.

A person could receive a grant to assist with the cost of laser birthmark removal if a doctor classified the mark as disfiguring and visible in normal clothing, Ms Power said.


Payments for wigs were available for people who suffered from a medical condition or were undergoing treatment that made a hairpiece desirable.

People who have received hardship assistance on three or more occasions in a 12-month period are required to show they have taken reasonable steps to increase their income, reduce their costs or improve their financial management.

Special-needs grants paid out in the first six months of the year
* $830 - Abortion fees
* $2710 - Funerals
* $7033 - Wigs and hairpieces
* $6659 - Vasectomies (20)
* $33,000 - Dentures, glasses and hearing aids
* $46,273 - Effluent treatments at homes
* $64,614 - School uniforms
* $247,137 - Doctors' fees, including two removals of birthmarks
* $6.3 million - Emergency dental treatment
* $1.29m - Released-prisoner grants
* $19.1 million - Food

Total: $32.9 million (not all areas represented above)