A scene from the National War Cabinet in September 2014

Written By: - Date published: 8:52 am, May 31st, 2016 - 38 comments
Categories: benefits, election 2014, national, same old national, Social issues, spin, welfare, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

News broke this morning about a major mistake by the Ministry of Social Development that caused the underpayment of benefits to tens of thousands of Kiwis. From Radio New Zealand:

Almost 90,000 beneficiaries have been paid incorrectly, totalling millions of dollars, due to an automatic payment mistake at the Ministry of Social Development.

The error dates back to 1993 and has resulted in thousands of people being given incorrect accommodation supplement payments across 21 years.

Initial analysis shows just over 41,000 people have been underpaid a total of $23 million, and just under 46,000 people have overpayments of around $32 million.

The mistake was discovered in September 2014 and was fixed a few months later, though Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was informed only in March this year.

Keen followers of New Zealand history will recall that the 2014 election was held in the month of September.  Depending on timing the news would have embarrassed the Government and put them on the defensive.

So how was it that the Minister was not told until 18 months later?  Do we live in a western democracy or is there that much manipulation of the flow of information that this sort of news is hidden and buried until it is politically advantageous for the Minister to be told and the news then released?

I suspect the following scene resembles the National Party War Room at the time the mistake was discovered …

38 comments on “A scene from the National War Cabinet in September 2014”

  1. Anno1701 1

    The carpet these things keep getting swept under must be getting pretty bloody lumpy by now…

    • NZJester 1.1

      Lumpy?
      I suspect a few of the worlds top climbers are planning to be the first to scale it’s heights now that New Zealand has something that is close to the height of Everest.
      Maybe they can say to you in the words similar to those of Edmund Hillary “Well Anno1701, we’ve knocked the bastard off.” and I’m not talking about the lump under the carpet!

    • Mosa 1.2

      The true extent of what has been hidden from view and covered up by Joyce,KEY and others would stun and appall thinking New Zealanders.
      Most things are brought too light by Hagar and friendly foreign media and many others.
      Thanks to Hagar we finally new the extent of manipulation and interference in our politics.
      The worst thing of all is they were democratically elected and will be again next year unless we stand up.

  2. TC 2

    Plausible deniability should be a campaign slogan for nact being one if their strengths.

    • dukeofurl 2.1

      The main point being Social Development Minister changed after the september election.
      Did the Minister at the time , Paula Bennett know ?

      Its telling that she isnt mentioned, when under ‘ no surprises’ she would have been told at the time.

      • Treetop 2.1.1

        “Did the Minister at the time, Paula Bennett Know?”

        Probably she was informed.

        When a matter is ongoing you would think that the previous minister in the same government would need to inform the next minister who gets the portfolio e.g. MSD.

        The wrong code entered for accommodation supplement, (23 million under paid) this expense was with held until after the 2016 budget.

        Not the only error made in benefit entitlements. Will be interesting to know the finer details of the errors made by MSD.

  3. mac1 3

    If you don’t tell me about it, then “I know nothing” is the first defence. Then I can say “I was not told.” Then I can say “It’s all history. Then I can say “I wasn’t the Minister then.”

    Then I can always blame a civil servant.

    Or Labour, I can always blame Labour.

    • ianmac 3.1

      Or mac1, we are having an Enquiry which will report back in 3 years time. As it is sub judice we will not discuss it till after the report back. So there!

      • mac1 3.1.1

        And then, ianmac, we will send an incompetent Minister overseas to an international conference on the eradication of incompetence. See, fixed that!

        • mac1 3.1.1.1

          And then we can bring back the pandas.

          And let’s build a new road. Oh, done that! Let’s build a bridge, or ten.

          Or let’s build a cycleway. Oh, done that already.

          A walkway? Oh. OK.

          A skyway. Let’s build a skyway from Northcape to Bluff so that tourists can parapent, glide or windsurf New Zealand!

  4. Keith 4

    This is a multi government error that has been identified, mistakes happen.

    But what is hard to reconcile is the minister, Tolley and her ministry are refusing to talk to RNZ about it. When Nat ministers do that as they are so prone to doing when they’ve got something to hide and when they aren’t guaranteed a patsy Hosking/Henry PR interview, you always have to smell a rat!

    • mac1 4.1

      “This is a multi government error that has been identified”.

      Ploy #7 “Labour did it, too.” 😉

      • Anne 4.1.1

        It was sabotage by the outgoing Labour govt. in 1990 designed to take affect from 1993. The Clark govt. kept quiet about it cos they didn’t want anyone to know it was… Labour who did it. 😯

  5. adam 5

    Mickey, silly question – but this feels like re-run of another piece of news this national government suppressed/let slid before the last election. Am I wrong on this?

    • mickysavage 5.1

      There are a few. My favourite is the all on attack on David Cunliffe over the Donghua Liu donation scandal when it transpired that the only party National donated to was National and that information was suppressed by the judicious use of the Parliamentary Register of Pecuniary interests …

      National’s electoral returns and the Donghua Liu donation

      • Mosa 5.1.1

        Cunliffe was owed an apology for that smear.
        And for Gowers -YOUR JUST A LIAR aren’t you Mr Cunliffe ?

    • Bill 5.2

      Maybe you’re thinking of the underpayments from WINZ that stretched back years that had to do with the date from when any payments would commence? And how they worked a swifty to avoid making those payments retrospectively?

      I guess they’ll do the same with this one – come up with some body swerve to avoid back-paying people their rightful entitlements.

      I also guess they’ll be no bullshit slathering off Tolley’s tongue as she goes on about how it would be unfair to other people in the system if ‘the system’ did the right thing – as she did in response to calls for WINZ to forget about collecting tens of thousands in debt from those they’d shoved into emergency motel accommodation.

      edit – just to note that the piece says the mistake was rectified, but says nothing about monies owing having been paid.

      • Treetop 5.2.1

        There is no consistency with how under payments are settled, there needs to be.

        The under payment of commencement of a benefit, a person had a window period to claim the lost day. Then legislation occurred to not payout a lost day.

        To legislate to not allow people to claim is a form of theft I think?

        Even though I have a lot of empathy for people loaning to stay in a motel and the stress and financial diffirculty this causes, there is a difference in being underpaid an entitlement.

  6. AsleepWhileWalking 6

    The found an error and are correcting it – great work MSD!

    • AB 6.1

      Seems it was a software bug. If these create small errors (rather than obvious malfunctions) they can go undetected for a long time. They often get picked up during an upgrade where some poor test engineer has to regression test the system. But 21 years does seem like a surprisingly long time – I don’t think 21 years qualifies as “great work”.
      And when you find a bug like this you should never, ever hide the fact.

      • DoublePlusGood 6.1.1

        21 years sounds about usual for the length of time between software upgrades for a government organisation. They probably felt they needed to update their database in 2014 so they didn’t have to do backups on 3 1/2 in floppy disks any more.

    • mac1 6.2

      Not the issue, AWW. The issue is that the department and/or Minister kept silent for so long, especially around an election period.

      A long time. An attempt to hide potentially electorally damaging information.

      And the public who had been underpaid had no knowledge of it and were not able to check that the shortfall had been rectified.

      • Bill 6.2.1

        To reiterate – there is nothing being reported to the effect that any shortfall had or has been rectified. All that’s being reported is that the mistake, presumably in relation to some software programming, has been rectified.

        $560 isn’t a sum that anyone claiming entitlements would be sniffing at, y’know? (23 million divided by 41 000)

        • Lanthanide 6.2.1.1

          “All that’s being reported is that the mistake, presumably in relation to some software programming, has been rectified.”

          Apparently it was a mistake made by staffers entering an incorrect profiling code (or something) for individual recipients. That is, user error, rather than software error.

          Apparently at the time it was discovered, there were only 800 recipients that were affected by the error, and their payments were fixed up at that date. It seems processes have been put in place so that any new recipients since Dec 2014 will not have suffered from the same error.

          The government is not going to seek repayment for overpaid amounts, but are still considering what to do about the underpayments, and how to rectify them.

          • Bill 6.2.1.1.1

            Not how I’m reading it Lanthanide. 41 000 people were affected. And 800 people from among the current 286 000 conduits for landlord largesse are also part of that 41 000 figure.

            • Lanthanide 6.2.1.1.1.1

              I never said 41,000 haven’t been affected in total history, I said that at the time it was discovered, only 800 people were affected by it. A more precise wording would have been “only 800 were being affected by it”.

              • Bill

                Approximately 800 of the 286,000 clients currently receiving the Accommodation Supplement were affected, Ms Bound said

                You can see how that doesn’t say that only 800 people were affected by it at the time? It’s saying that 800 people who are currently claiming the entitlement were among those affected at the time. Granted, that’s probably a small difference in terms of 800+/-…actually it can only add on to the eight hundred plus side of the approximation, but still…

                • Lanthanide

                  I’m not sure how someone who is not claiming an entitlement, could be affected by an overpayment/underpayment of an entitlement they’re not claiming.

                  Well, I guess they could be overpaid, and fail to tell the ministry about it.

                  Anyway, not really sure what your beef is, I never said “only 800 people have ever been affected”, I said “at the time it was discovered, there were only 800 recipients that were affected by the error”.

                  • Bill

                    You’re still exhibiting failure in reading comprehension. Never mind.

                    edit – Last gasp attempt to make things clear….800 current claimants who were also claiming the entitlement at the time of the error were affected. An undisclosed number who were claiming the entitlement at the time, but who are not currently claiming the entitlement were also affected.

                    • Lanthanide

                      Ahhh, ok, I see it now.

                      Part of it is that I was going from memory of what they said on RNZ, rather than reading the statement on the website.

                      I agree with your interpretation; bringing up the 41,000 didn’t make anything clearer.

  7. Lanthanide 7

    Keen followers of New Zealand history will recall that the 2014 election was held in the month of September. Depending on timing the news would have embarrassed the Government and put them on the defensive.

    Eh. Just because the minister is told at a particular date, doesn’t mean the minister has to make it public then. As we’ve just seen, we’re only hearing about it now, 2 months after the minister was told.

    • dukeofurl 7.1

      You are making the mistake the government is hoping for

      Assuming the minister was the same person before and after the election.

      When in fact Paula Bennett was the minister before the election in september when the mistake was found.
      Here is her appointment dates
      19 November 2008 – 8 October 2014

      • Lanthanide 7.1.1

        Not sure how that is relevant to my comment, which is purely that had the minister been informed of it at the time it was discovered by the ministry staff, there’s no guarantee that the public would have been informed about it at that same time. In fact it’s quite likely the minister would have deliberately not informed the public about it.

        It doesn’t matter who the minister is or was for my statement to be true.

        • dukeofurl 7.1.1.1

          Its political spin 101. Frame an answer to make the reader assume something different than what happened.

          Fact : Mistake found about payments in weeks before election. Normal policy is the minister is told, but ministers change at election so new minister isnt told till much later.

          Spin: Cover up the fact the previous minister WAS told at the time, by only referring to when new minister WAS told. (When she asked about it)

          yes no guarantee Bennett would had spoken, but if this can be found she can targeted for ‘hiding the truth’

          • Lanthanide 7.1.1.1.1

            Should be easy to OIA any thing to do with this issue being presented to the previous minister.

            So if they are spinning and covering up what really happened, it seems it can only bite them.

  8. ropata 8

    The takeaway from this story is that the Nats don’t mind stomping on the most vulnerable Kiwis as long as they don’t get caught, and don’t have to pay anything back

    what a pack of mongrels.

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