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More Beneficiary Bashing

Written By: - Date published: 8:21 am, August 14th, 2013 - 31 comments
Categories: tax, welfare - Tags:

An interesting study has come out of Victoria University – showing that the Government writes off tax debt much more easily than it does welfare debt.

There was $6 billion of tax debt vs $1 billion of welfare debt, but the welfare debt, interest and penalties were all much less likely to be forgiven – indeed that debt was likely to be deducted from superannuation and estates of the deceased.

In the year to June 2012 IRD wrote off about 50% of penalties and interest – $374 million – as well as 11.6% of core debt – another $435 million.

Ministry of Social Development wrote off $8.7 million or 2.1% of debt. That debt is mostly loans to those who couldn’t afford living costs and welfare overpayments.

More resources were put into retrieving the average $2523 of beneficiary debt than into retrieving the average $14,479 of tax debt.

It may seem odd that we’re doing everything we can to screw money out of those who can’t afford their living costs, while forgiving the debt of those who don’t pay their taxes.  But that’s the philosophy of this Government: beneficiaries are second class citizens and taxpayers are worthy of respect – even if they don’t actually pay their taxes.

While not excusing fraud at either end (no-one should break the union deal of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay), tax fraudsters also get off much easier than welfare fraudsters – despite tax fraud generally being for larger amounts by those who can afford to pay more easily.

It seems we’ve reversed the Biblical maxim that from those who are given plenty much will be expected – and we now expect more from those who’ve been given next to nothing.

31 comments on “More Beneficiary Bashing”

  1. AsleepWhileWalking 1

    It is my understanding that MSD don’t write off debt unless there has been a mistake by the ministry (overpayment/miscalculation that has resulting in the beneficiary accepting the money in good faith). That would be 8.7 million dollars in mistakes.

    They really don’t care that someone is in poverty and can’t afford repayments as stated above.

    I can’t see where you have gotten this idea of Work and Income compassionately releasing people from debt – I’m guessing you assumed they are human (!!).

    • weka 1.1

      Not true. WINZ can and sometimes do write off debt for various reasons not related directly to their own mistakes.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    I don’t mind the government being fairly harsh going after beneficiaries, but only if they apply the same measures going after tax cheats.

    I’m in a position where I could likely get away with several hundred or maybe couple of thousand in tax rorts, but I don’t, because that’s dishonest. It makes me feel like a sucker to play by the book when so many others aren’t, and don’t get any penalty for it.

    • weka 2.1

      “I don’t mind the government being fairly harsh going after beneficiaries,”

      This need to be made clear (and it’s not that clear in the post itself). ‘Debt’ with WINZ can be something like getting an advance on one’s benefit to pay for an emergency or dental care. There is no need for the govt to be harsh on beneficiaries in recovering this. In fact it’s better if they are lenient in how it gets paid back. Benefits are deliberately set to be less than one can live on, so it’s fairly normal for beneficiaries to get top ups via advances. These are then deducted out of the benefit weekly payment at an agreed to rate. Where the beneficiary is experiencing hardship, it’s better for the weekly rate to be as low as possible.

      The general public needs to understand that this isn’t an issue about fraud or wrong-doing by the beneficiary. Although those things can happen also, conflating them with debt recovery just feeds the bene bashing memes.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        Thanks weka, didn’t know that.

        I agree, that agreed repayments between WINZ and a client should not be considered “debt” in the sense that overpayments/fraud/etc are considered debt. It’s stupid to lump both types of money together.

        • framu 2.1.1.1

          also – not sure if its changed, but …

          usually when the govt is talking benefit fraud the quoted numbers include not only payment errors and loans, but also money that has been in the WINZ budget but was defrauded by people who arent beneficiaries.

    • aerobubble 2.2

      I think you misunderstood. Its wrong for the Minister to argue that its okay to let off a business off tax debt to keep people in work, who might end up on a benefit otherwise, and then to argue that is akin to put people already under the most extreme economic duress who are forced too pay back money that may have been spent, here’s the misunderstanding, on some shoes, or lunch, for a child.
      As if the poorest waste the money they have, or wouldn’t use it very wisely, the burden being so much greater since once in debt its becomes much more onerous to live on the welfare when WINZ is cropping it to recoup debts. You as a citizen can no longer just wander and gather food, fuel, water and start a farm, where you want, and in fact are prohibited from such so that all may reap a bounty of food, fuel, potable water, in return for this transgression on our collective liberty its expected that all be maintain to a minimum of food, housing, education and health. Without the acquiescence of the poor, and all the others who use welfare, or believe in welfare even though have never or will never used it (those who understand basic economics that mass production of food, health care, etc drives prices down for even the richest, so own a reciprocal right to their fellow citizens ), so nobody would have much at all. Its called society, its does exist and our deeply soft fascist government should not be trusted.

  3. One Anonymous Knucklehead 3

    …and more:

    Who’s for government prescribed mandatory mass medication?

  4. tracey 4

    goodness, no srylands on this?

  5. freedom 5

    I realize this is slightly off topic but fraud comes in many forms and the ongoing spin from the government regarding beneficiaries is about as fraudulent as it gets.

    Having recently made that long walk from an empty pantry into a food bank, and under the threat of a looming eviction, I jumped through the protracted collection of new hoops in the WINZ office and am now in receipt of a Job Seeker allowance.

    two things ( three actually)
    one; I am grateful for the assistance

    two: I have had numerous discussions around the abatement assessment being done weekly ( or when income is received) and how it is not equitable with other taxpayers, but mainly focused on the reality that not all lives are carbon copies. To quote the Minister “an individual’s circumstances do matter.” After presenting numerous personal examples where I showed weekly abatement (applied across the board) was fundamentally flawed as a premise, they have agreed to assess my external / occasional income as it relates to the annual benefit income.
    – If this relates to your own situation, talk to your case worker and ask for the abatement assessment to be adjusted accordingly. They can do it, it is my understanding they have just been told not to.

    three: The level at which the abatement claw begins to dig in is NOT $100 per week. It turns out that only applies to Assisted Living (Invalid’s benefit), DPB recipients and undefined special cases that I could not get a clear answer on from either a case worker or the call center staff.

    ALL OTHER UNEMPLOYED PERSONS ARE STILL ON THE OLD LEVEL OF ONLY $80 PER WEEK GROSS, BEFORE LOSING 70 CENTS IN THE DOLLAR ON EVERY DOLLAR ABOVE THE 80 GROSS. That is of course on top of the income tax collected of the total gross .

    Take a basic ten hour per week part time job at minimum wage , now take out the income tax of around $16 and the abatement claw back of $38 and the person has worked ten hours for approximately $8 p/hr net. Add transport/food/clothing and the myriad of miscellaneous expenses that naturally accompany the requirements of having a job and the person is working for maybe four to six bucks an hour. This is daily reality for the thousands of good kiwis out there every day really trying to improve their situation.

    A situation that in the vast majority of cases was not of their own making.

    How does this help New Zealand? Let alone help the 250 thousand people trying to survive in an environment where we get three hundred people applying for a Super Market shelf stacking job.

    No matter how I look at it, all I can do is recall the words of our great leader
    ” I want to see wages drop”

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      How does this help New Zealand?

      It doesn’t but it does help a few people get richer.

      No matter how I look at it, all I can do is recall the words of our great leader
      ” I want to see wages drop”

      QFT

    • NickS 5.2

      ALL OTHER UNEMPLOYED PERSONS ARE STILL ON THE OLD LEVEL OF ONLY $80 PER WEEK GROSS, BEFORE LOSING 70 CENTS IN THE DOLLAR ON EVERY DOLLAR ABOVE THE 80 GROSS. That is of course on top of the income tax collected of the total gross .

      Take a basic ten hour per week part time job at minimum wage , now take out the income tax of around $16 and the abatement claw back of $38 and the person has worked ten hours for approximately $8 p/hr net. Add transport/food/clothing and the myriad of miscellaneous expenses that naturally accompany the requirements of having a job and the person is working for maybe four to six bucks an hour. This is daily reality for the thousands of good kiwis out there every day really trying to improve their situation.

      This.

      There’s no point in picking up a sub 24hr/week job while on the sickness benefit because you end up being penalised for working. Heck there’s an 8 hr/week job I’m looking at and it’s marginal to start with due to being Friday and Saturday nights from 9 until 1am and made even more marginal by secondary tax rates and the abatement of $20.3 + cost of the uniform. Late nights and depression do not fucking mix in the slightest and I’d rather have my weekends free for tramping given it’s very significant positive effects on my mood and sleep patterns. The $70 odd net income, despite being useful, isn’t really worth the 1:30am nights, sleep disruption and subsequent costs stemming from that, such as killing my motivation, low energy, decreased self-maintenance (not significantly enough thankfully) and general disinterest in everything. Along with decreased resistance (Nick fails initiative role) to junk food, turns out feeling depressed leads to nomming on not the best of foods…

      And I’d only be doing it until I was back to being fit enough to work fulltime labouring jobs, which is 3 months roughly from now _if_ my depression doesn’t get in the way. Then again, I usually improve in mood as summer rolls in and without $Douchebag to fuck things up* and WINZ not yet on my back for some reason**. So yeah, fun fun ahead.

      _____________________________________________________
      *purposely isolating a friend with depression is not the smartest idea, it tends to lead to more depression not less depression.
      **partly expect there’s internal, non-public policy concerning depressed individuals to avoid messy suicide-caused bad PR. Doesn’t deal with getting depressed people back into work though it seems, nor making it easy to get counselling. Basically, the more barriers there are, the more difficult it becomes for someone with depression to push themselves through it. Note – mentioning “positive thinking” will result in #CLUEBAT T_T and a frank info-dump of neuronal firing thresholds and what depression does to them.

  6. infused 6

    IRD has been tightened up recently. It’s very hard to get off any debt.

    I’d be quite keen to read the study if anyone has a link?? Curious to see if they are including provisional tax in their calculations which would greatly distort things.

    • RedLogix 6.1

      Yes … they used to run tax amnesties which were very helpful to get people who had gotten into difficulties a chance to clean the slate and get back into the system. It was always recognised as an efficient and simple process that ultimately gained more income for the govt. than was ever forgiven.

      In many situations it makes sense to waiver penalties and interest which have often built up due to factors outside the taxpayers control.

      I can’t recall one happening in a while now. They seem to be into punitive taxation again. (Like they always are under a Nat. administration.)

  7. Short Plank 7

    I would suggest one answer to the question posed – why does the IRD forgive debt when fraudulent beneficiaries are pursued – might be that the IRD prefers to avoid costs fighting lawyers and accountants to recover disputed tax while Beneficiaries are rarely in position to fight back at the required bureaucratic levels.

    “It seems we’ve reversed the Biblical maxim that from those who are given plenty much will be expected – and we now expect more from those who’ve been given next to nothing.”

    Seems to me the Biblical maxim actually is the reverse of that: “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Mark 4:25)

  8. captain hook 8

    This country and its tory self made rugged individualist denizens are into bullying and hurting the defenceless big time.
    Its all they are good for.

  9. tricledrown 9

    The real statistic is the right are sadistic!
    Kicking the weakest when their down creating a nasty divided society!

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    But that’s the philosophy of this Government: beneficiaries are second class citizens and taxpayers are worthy of respect – especially if they don’t actually pay their taxes.

    FIFY

    While not excusing fraud at either end (no-one should break the union deal of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay), tax fraudsters also get off much easier than welfare fraudsters – despite tax fraud generally being for larger amounts by those who can afford to pay more easily.

    Easy fix: Legislation that fraud results in 1 year in prison for every $100k ($1m = 10 years in prison) and specifically no prison sentence for anything less than $100k. Brings about consistency.

    • Mike S 10.1

      would the legislation be adhered to by the ‘justice’ system. At the moment, as per a few stories here and elsewhere not too long ago, if you are convicted of benefit fraud you are 3 times more likely to be sent to prison than if you are convicted of tax evasion. This despite the fact that benefit fraud is a tiny drop in an ocean compared to tax evasion in terms of $ stolen from taxpayers.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        They stick to the legislation now, the problem is that there’s no consistency. As you say, beneficiaries are more likely to go to jail and they’ll do so for far smaller amounts. This needs to be addressed and the way to do that is to legislate the consistency.

  11. For people in Auckland there will be a protest at Paula Benefit’s public meeting on ‘Getting Waitakere Going” tomorrow (Thurs) at 5-45 pm.

    Waitemata Unite is organising it and put out this press release:

    Interest is building in a protest against the welfare reforms, at Paula Bennett’s Office, 429 Great North Rd, Henderson, at 5.45 pm, Thursday 15 August called by Unite Waitemata.

    Paula Bennett will be addressing a public meeting at 6pm about “Moving Waitakere Forward.”

    “We think the best way for Waitakere to move forward is to remove Paula Bennett from office” said Janet Robin, President of Unite Waitemata, which is a branch of the Unite Union.

    “Unite is a union for low paid workers and beneficiaries,” said Ms Robin.
    “The real purpose of the benefit reforms is to make everybody compete on the labour market for scarce jobs, which will bring down wages. This helps employers increase their falling profits.” said Ms Robin.
    “That’s why workers and beneficiaries need to unite against benefit cuts and wage cuts.”
    “The Government is more interested in corporate welfare than social welfare “, said Ms Robin.
    “WINZ punitive sanctions for such small things as being five minutes late for an appointment, mean that many people are just giving up trying to get a benefit at all, which is what WINZ wants.” she said.
    “The less people on the benefit; the more the government saves money.”

    “The government is focussing on getting the sick and disabled, and single parents, off benefits, because that is where the biggest welfare budget is”, she said.
    “They plan to save more than a billion dollars by taking benefits off single parents and the sick, who are the people who need them the most” she said.

    “With no jobs out there, it is hypocritical and ridiculous to pretend that WINZ really wants to help people get jobs.”

    “If that is really their intention, why doesn’t the government create jobs?” she asked.

    “Paula Bennett’s supposed caring for children suffering from violence is hypocritical when she is prepared to take half a benefit off a beneficiary family for something as trivial as not attending a doctor’s appointment.”

    “This contravenes the United Nations Rights of the child, for the necessities of life; as obviously a child cannot be supported on half a benefit.”

    “The biggest hypocrisy of all is the fact the Paula Bennett was on the DPB, was helped to get a deposit for her first home, and received a Training Incentive Allowance which helped her to study full time at tertiary level and eventually to get the career she now has. Yet she has destroyed all these possibilities for other beneficiaries now.”

    For more information call

    Dave 0272800080
    Keith 09 8369104

    or email
    unitewaitemata@gmail.com

    http://waitemataunite.blogspot.co.nz/2013/08/lets-get-waitakere-moving-without-paula.html

  12. Mary 12

    There’s a bill waiting to be passed that removes the current ability of Work and Income to decide not to recover debt.

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2013/0098/latest/DLM5024915.html

    The power to write off debt that’s the result of work and Income’s error remains but the discretion to decide not to recover any other kind of debt is going to be removed.

  13. xtasy 13

    Yes, those figures from that Victoria Uni study reveal it all, it is all just an agenda, to prosecute, to scare, to discriminate, to chase, to minimise, to criminalise and dis-entitle beneficiaries, none else. But there is even more to it, a yet more worrying agenda, followed through under the most abominable, new welfare regime, put into place as supposed “reforms”, also involving outsourcing and privatisation of “services”.

    Yet: Paula Bennett and her tactics, of course thought out by the cabinet, and their advisors, who resorted to UK “experts” (Mansel Aylward, Gordon Waddell, David Beaumont and so forth), who all “hail” the “health benefits of work”, and you know by now what I am talking about, also including mad Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor of MSD and WINZ, who has in presentations for years compared benefit dependence to “drug dependence”, yes for real, the truth is hitting the main news channels now.

    Questions are being asked, finally, on Radio NZ National at Nine to Noon this morning, and during and item on One News tonight, on TVNZ. At last, finally the mainstream media are taking note, learning again, I am sure, from social media, like this great website and forum. See for yourselves, what was reported today, this is just the beginning of the challenge and exposure, and more pressure will be put onto Bennett and the government soon:

    http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/live-stream-one-6pm-video-4927552

    http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/pressure-doctors-question-unemployed-patients-video-5533560
    (Paula Bennett excusing the pressure put on GPs and other health professionals to put pressure on sick and disabled beneficiaries to look for work!)

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2565599/the-government%27s-shake-up-of-child-protection-laws

    Listen to the very end of that report and interview on RNZ National and Nine to Noon this morning, as in the last few minutes Kathrin Ryan for once asks Paula Bennett that question, whether WINZ are expecting doctors to ask the hard questions on sick beneficiaries, re work and more. She did the usual cop-out, our dear Paula.

    We will hammer away, that the lies of this Minister, the hypocrisy, the self righteousness, the bias, the ill informed “evidence” that “work is good for your health” is nothing but a calculated agenda, financed at least initially, by controversial US health and disability insurer Unum Insurance!

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    • Mary 13.1

      It was interesting on Ninetonoon this morning that the first two items were about bureaucrats creating policies designed to override independent opinions of qualified medical professionals.

      • xtasy 13.1.1

        Mary – I am hoping and praying, that RNZ National and a few others, are slowly wakening up, and are digging into what I have tried to raise awareness about for months. We may perhaps be getting somewhere, it was even mentioned on TVNZ One last night, albeit rather one sided by one doctor and short. But there must eventually be more questions being asked, and it cannot be, that Bennett and Key and their agenda gets realised without scrutiny.

  14. srylands 14

    Most of the posters on this thread are naïve. Three is no difference in the intent of IRD and MSD regarding debt recovery. Read their Statements of Intent (SOIs) and you will find similar debt recovery objectives.

    I can only assume that most of the commentators here have never dealt with IRD. Having been a client of both WINZ and IRD in the last two years, I know who I found scarier. Hint – it wasn’t the smiley woman who administered the welfare checks.

    The reason for the different outcomes is obvious – IRD debts are much bigger. If IRD doesn’t cut a deal the sad guys and gals declare bankruptcy and the Crown gets nothing. WINZ welfare debts are smaller, and critically, they can be recovered through withholding a slice of the welfare checks.

    But both agencies have the same obligations to maximise debt recovery for the Crown.

    So stop seeing evil where none exists. It is ridiculous. You have the whole thing arse about based on a totally unsurprising indicator.

    • richard 14.1

      Never let the facts get in the way of a good story eh?

      You should really do some research before committing pen to paper. Haven’t your econ101 lecturers taught you anything this year?

      More from Dr Mariott:

      New Zealanders take welfare fraud more seriously than tax evasion despite the latter depriving the country of much greater sums of money according to research.

      Dr Lisa Marriott, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, is investigating the differences in prosecution and sentencing outcomes for the two offences, both of which, she says, involve money, are premeditated and have the same victims – the government and society.

      “One is not giving what you should and the other is taking what you shouldn’t.”

      Her analysis of court data on the most serious offending from 2008-2011 shows that 22 per cent of people found guilty of tax offences received a custodial sentence while 60 per cent of benefit fraudsters were imprisoned.

      Dr Marriott’s investigation also shows tax crimes are more costly, with those given custodial sentences committing offences valued at just over $800,000. Benefit fraud averaged $67,000 per offender.

      Benefit fraud cost New Zealand $22 million in 2010, or around $5 for each New Zealander. While it is difficult to get accurate figures for tax evasion, the Tax Justice Network estimates New Zealand missed out on more than $7.4 billion of tax revenue in 2011, or around $1,500 per New Zealander.

      • srylands 14.1.1

        “You should really do some research before committing pen to paper. Haven’t your econ101 lecturers taught you anything this year?”

        Fool. The story is about debt recovery practices, not comparing penalties for fraud and evasion. Most WINZ debt is not a result of fraud.

    • weka 14.2

      “Three is no difference in the intent of IRD and MSD regarding debt recovery. Read their Statements of Intent (SOIs) and you will find similar debt recovery objectives.”

      Well, duh, it’s not like they’re going to put the differences into their SOIs, and we’re talking about application, not intent.

      “WINZ welfare debts are smaller, and critically, they can be recovered through withholding a slice of the welfare checks.”

      How do they recover debt from people that are no longer on a benefit?

      Are you saying that IRD has no ability to recover debt directly from individuals?

    • Tracey 14.3

      Beneficiaries can declare bankruptcy and I don’t know if that affects their ability to get assistance in the future.

      The percentile difference is the main are of interest imo.

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