National to focus on benefit fraud, crime and drug use

National is today announcing measures to get tough on those who abuse and exploit the welfare system.

“We’ll sanction beneficiaries if their recreational drug use gets in the way of a job, we’ll cancel benefits for criminals on the run from Police and a new team of fraud specialists will focus on catching benefit cheats,” says Social Development spokeswoman Paula Bennett.

These changes build on recent announcements to comprehensively reform welfare by resetting expectations through a more active, investment-based system.
The additional welfare reforms announced today include three main areas:

Fraud measures:
• Extended data-matching with other government agencies
• Law changes to improve prosecution of those who defraud
• A team of eight specialist fraud investigators

This year Work and Income increased data matching with other agencies and found six to 12 per cent of people were receiving benefits they weren’t entitled to.

Over 2010/11 there was 690 benefit fraud prosecutions, involving more than $22 million, with a further $183 million counted as overpayment, because it fell below the prosecution threshold.

“So, in the past year alone, new debt of $200 million was established due to benefit fraud and that’s unacceptable,” says Ms Bennett.

“This policy will save an estimated $200 million over four years.”

Beneficiaries on the run from Police
• Benefit suspended for those who fail to appear on an arrest warrant and cannot be located by Police
• Even if warrant cleared and benefit resumes, no back-pay.

“Most New Zealanders would be appalled to know that someone can continue getting a benefit while on the run from Police. National has reviewed this and will not pay for criminals to evade the justice system.”

Police will advise Work and Income when an individual fails to appear on a warrant and evades subsequent attempts by Police to contact them. The beneficiary will then receive written warning their benefit will be suspended in seven days’ time.

Beneficiaries with children in this situation will retain 50 per cent of their benefit until they supply evidence to show the warrant has been cleared.

Recreational Drug Use:
• Jobseeker sanctioned if recreational drug use affects work prospects
• Benefit cancelled if Jobseeker fails workplace drug test or refuses to apply for a job because they would have failed a drug test.

“Employers are desperate to hire forestry workers in Northland, but workers must be drug free and that’s not an unreasonable expectation,” says Ms Bennett.

“Currently Work and Income doesn’t put people forward for jobs if they know the individual will fail a drug test, so we’re changing the rules so Jobseekers are responsible for being available for work.”

“National believes in a welfare system that is fair for those who use it, but also fair on taxpayers who fund it,” says Ms Bennett.