Given that beneficiary bashing is back in fashion, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at where the biggest rip-offs occur.
Work and Income has a benefit called Temporary Additional Support (TAS). It replaced Special Benefit as the benefit of last resort in 2006, although Special Benefit is still available to those who have been in continuous receipt of it since then.
TAS / Special Benefit are paid according to a formula (although with Special Benefit there is discretion to payer a higher amount than the formula assessment). The formula takes into account what a beneficiary’s essential costs are, compares that figure with what the beneficiary receives in benefit payments, and if there is a significant difference, the beneficiary is entitled to receive TAS / Special Benefit to help meet their costs.
Accommodation costs and disability-related costs are considered essential costs for TAS / Special Benefit, and these will be already known to the Ministry of Social Developments’ Work and Income Service in the case of any beneficiary who applies for Accommodation Supplement and/or Disability Allowance.
So it is possible to work out approximately (not exactly, because there will be a few who will be disqualified by a cash assets test and a few who will qualify through essential costs that are not accommodation or disability related) how many beneficiaries should be entitled to TAS / Special Benefit on the basis of high accommodation and/or disability-related costs already declared to Work and Income through Accommodation Supplement and Disability Allowance applications.
That is exactly what the Beneficiaries Advocacy Federation asked the Ministry of Social Development to do. Here are the results, as of December 2009:
There were 34,641 beneficiaries who, according to information already held by Work and Income, met the formula assessment for TAS / Special Benefit at the end of last year but were not receiving it. Around four out of every ten beneficiaries who are entitled to it miss out. In most cases I suspect they are not even told they can apply.
The ethnic breakdown is disturbing too. If you are a Pakeha beneficiary, you are around 20% more likely to get your full and correct entitlement than if you are of Pasifika ethnicity. It seems that institutional racism is still alive and well at Work and Income.
With a performance as appalling as this, Paula Bennett needs to focus a little less on the few beneficiaries who are ripping the system off, and a great deal more on the many who are being ripped off by it.
Hat Tip: Graham Howell on the comments thread