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Tax fraud, benefit fraud, proportional response

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, October 22nd, 2012 - 38 comments
Categories: class war, law, national, tax, welfare - Tags: , ,

This speaks for itself really:

Courts tougher on benefit fraud than tax dodging – study

New research reveals tax dodgers are ripping off the country at up to 150 times the rate of welfare fraudsters, but are being jailed much less often. …

Last year, tax evaders cheated the country of between $1 and $6 billion, while welfare fraud cost $39 million. “The problem of tax evasion is at best case scenario 25 to 50 times the financial amount of welfare fraud, and at worst case scenario potentially 100 to 150 times the amount,” says Dr Marriott.

And the latest research from Victoria University suggests our courts are far from equal in their treatment of the two groups.
“For tax evaders, the average offending is about four times as much, but have about a third of the likelihood of receiving a custodial sentence.”

The numbers tell the story. For tax evaders, the average offending is $270,000, and those found guilty have only a 22 percent, or one-in-five chance, of being jailed.

For welfare fraudsters, the average offending is $70,000, and those found guilty have a 60 percent chance of being jailed.
So is it a case of our courts demonising the poor?

“It highlights the prejudices we have against beneficiaries and that we’re judging them as different because of their work status,” says Sarah Thompson of Auckland Action Against Poverty.

So – structural discrimination against beneficiaries – gee I wonder if the Nats’ beneficiary bashing tactics will help, or make things worse? I wonder if the Nats will pursue the big problem, or continue to hound the one which is a fraction of the cost?

38 comments on “Tax fraud, benefit fraud, proportional response”

  1. Policy Parrot 1

    So long as the tax system is based on self-reporting, there will always be an element of tax evasion. Understating income, overstating expenses – these are all relatively commonplace – whether it be the local panelbeater, or the international coffee firm. I think prosecution using the status quo would be preferable, perhaps more resources be allocated to perform more audits.

    A larger problem is the legal but immoral form, of tax avoidance. Now this is a problem that can be tackled by politicians, but it require serious intellectual brain power, and a rigorous assessment by those specialise at finding gaps. Simple systems are usually the best, minimise legal deductions and legislate in clear and unambigious terminology (with plainspeak where necessary).

    • LynW 1.1

      Great article. Thanks for the link. I have put this on my Facebook page.

      PP, perhaps the biggest problem is that many of the politicians, law makers and serious intellectual powers are the ones utilising the existing legal but immoral systems! How has such immoral and unjust behaviour become so acceptable, and those with a conscience the worse off and seen to be less clever?

    • stargazer 1.2

      “A larger problem is the legal but immoral form, of tax avoidance.”

      tax avoidance is not legal. see section BG1 of the income tax act 2007. hasn’t been legal for a long time, and you can thank the winebox inquiry for that.

  2. Bill 2

    So a very rough and ready calculation from those figures (dividing the average $ of fraud into the total $ of fraud) suggests approximately 500 odd people were claiming entitlements illegally. And that over 220 000 people were defrauding their tax.

    500 as against getting on for a quarter of a million. Quite a difference.

    I’m curious..anybody care to roughly work out the %age of dodgy claimants versus %age of dodgy tax payers? I ain’t that flash on numbers and need to get my skates on.

    Meanwhile, there’s the puzzle of how it is possible, besides cases of entirely false claims being made, to defraud welfare for large weekly sums of money. Total weekly payments are so low that large $ anomolies would stick out like dogs bollox. So it would be interesting to have a breakdown on the periods of time fraudulent claims go undetected. eg, five years at $20 per week = $5000, which sounds like a usable of money until it’s broken down into weekly amounts. But what does it say of welfare that people are willing to risk quite bad shit for the sake of $20 per week?

    And finally, to the best of my knowledge, another aspect to this is that somebody defrauding welfare gets whatever sentence and WINZ still pursues the recovery of all monies. But if my understandng is correct, that’s not the case in other instances of fraud where the sentence is seen as being in lieu of full repayment.

    • Wayne 2.1

      Is it likely that 7% of all taxpayers are tax evaders? Most taxpayers don’t really have an opportunity to be tax evaders. Think of all the PAYE earners, the retired on NS with interest or dividend income – all tax deducted at source. Really only the self employed can be tax evaders and 250,000 would imply at least half of them are. So I am not convinced by the higher end estimate.

      Six billion is nearly 3% of GDP and implies tax being totally evaded on at least $18 billion income which is 9% of GDP.

      Now in some countries 9% would be an unexceptional figure (think Greece), but no credible estimate has virtually 10% of New Zealand’s GDP being completely outside the tax system. Much more likely to be around 3% (which I recall is the Treasury estimate).

      As you will know IRD is boosting its tax compliance system, especially for the self employed.

      Of course the difference between taxes and benefits is that in the tax situation a person earns money and fails to declare it, whereas in benefit fraud a person is actually claiming the money from someone else.

      • One Tāne Huna 2.1.1

        Of course the differences between tax and benefit fraud are that the former is 150 times worse than the latter, and the punishments are distorted by bias and prejudice.

      • karol 2.1.2

        Of course the difference between taxes and benefits is that in the tax situation a person earns money
         
        Are you sure that is always the case?  Some people are paid well more than is warranted from the effort they put in and/or the contributions these efforts make (or don’t) to the good of society.

    • @ Bill

      Your questions align with the comment I was going to make.

      As I understand it, when someone is done for fraud in WINZ they are expected to pay back their whole benefit for the time the fraud was committed.

      i.e if a person was on a single person’s benefit and yet in a relationship, they would be getting approx $20 a week more than ‘they are entitled to’. They would be required to pay back the entire benefit (approx $190 per week) not the $20 extra in the event they were done for fraud.

      This was the case a decade or so ago, and was information I’d gleaned from someone who had been done for fraud. I asked them how they’d managed to clock up the tens of thousands they were required to pay back and this was their answer.

      • Vicky32 2.2.1

        They would be required to pay back the entire benefit (approx $190 per week) not the $20 extra in the event they were done for fraud.

        I did not know that, but I am not surprised…

    • Andrew 2.3

      Once a person has had a penalty imposed for tax evasion, there is no ability for the IRD to write off the balance owing. They can only have it wiped through bankruptcy. Refer para 75 – SPS 06/02 on the IRD website.

  3. PlanetOrphan 3

    Great questions Anthony, We all know the Gnats’ want to stomp on beneficiaries.

    Know we know the numbers they are using too justify it are a complete fraud.

    Aoteoroa is bankrupt because of the Gnats’ not the beneficiaries.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Aoteoroa is bankrupt because of the Gnats’ not the beneficiaries.

      QFT

      It’s always been the capitalists that destroy the economy.

  4. Chalupa Batman 4

    I’d like to see a govt not talk about cracking down on bene fraudsters and tax fraudsters but actually do it

    • One Tāne Huna 4.1

      Then you should probably try opening your eyes.

      Although the volume of cases reviewed reduced between 2004/2005 and 2009/2010 (see table IS.1), the dollar value of overpayments in 2009/2010 was close to the levels reached in 2004/2005 and 2006/2007. Benefit fraud debts as a percentage of the total level of MSD Crown expenditure on income support equates to around 1/10th of one percent.

      The phased implementation of the Fraud Risk Workflow model from August 2009 onwards has led to improved efficiencies and a better allocation of resources. This is achieved through risk profiling allegations as they are received and allocating cases to either a desk-based review at the Integrity Intervention Unit or a full investigation at the appropriate Fraud Investigation Unit.

      My emphasis.

  5. ak 5

    eg, five years at $20 per week = $5000, which sounds like a usable of money until it’s broken down into weekly amounts

    Precisely Bill. It’s a sort of “reverse widow’s mite” situation, and if one factored in the costs of the small army of “invesigators” and consequent legal costs involved in pursuing these mites, it would quickly become obvious that the aim is political pursuit of Bennybash votes rather than economic rationality.

    Further compounded by the fact that many of those prosecuted would have evaded punishment if they could have afforded decent legal representation.

    $20 a week? Hand over your children, you’re off to jail my dear.

    Hundreds of millions? Thanks, banks, we’ll take 30. Your lawyers are bigger than ours, and who knows what they’ll dig up about us?

    Arise Sir Michael.

  6. AwakeWhileWalking 6

    1) Let’s plug the holes in the welfare system first. Ira Bailey pointed out in his interview with RNZ that it looks as though MSD are auditing the kiosks, but even though it is absolutely possible with the level of access available that someone could have set up fraudulent benefits to be paid to themselves that it appears MSD are not auditing or looking for this type of activity. In other words they don’t want to look for the fraud. Gosh, is it at all possible that one of the many disgruntled IT peeps made redundant from MSD deliberately left the hole there so they could get back at the ministry by committing fraud? Possibly, and they would also know how to cover their tracks and the where MSD would try and cut costs by not looking for unfettered and unauthorised access.

    2) I had an issue with MSD where a counsellor had falsely declared he was a member of the NZAC (New Zealand Association of Counsellors). Work and Income policy states they will not fund counselling for anyone who is not a member of the NZAC. MSD refused to prosecute as they said that their system wouldn’t allow them to search for him. This means that anyone can declare themselves to be a counsellor and a member of the NZAC and get funding via beneficiaries. I estimate he would have made somewhere between $15K – 70K from MSD, CYFS, and Department of Corrections contracts in the years he was operating. This particular counsellor was found guilty of professional misconduct by the HDC. Who knows how many human rights abuses were funded by our government through his deceit?

    3) Let’s not forget that the bene-bash is a sport almost exclusive to National and Act. Changing their focus to tax dodgers DOES NOT PLEASE middle New Zealand who can’t relate to the lazy money sponge beneficiaries, but do strongly associate with tax dodgers and might dearly like to join them if they safely could. If proof were needed you need only look at the punishments handed down, QED.

  7. RedLogix 7

    Tax evasion is one of those non-problems that could be easily made to go away.

    It’s simple.

    1. Change the tax system to something close to the Big Kahuna idea. This eliminates much of the incentive for tax avoidance because all income from all sources is effectively taxed exactly the same. No wriggle room.

    2. Eliminate all Company Tax and tax all company profits returned to shareholders and fringe benefits at the personal rate. This eliminates a lot of tax evasion because there is simply no longer any point.

    3. Make all personal tax records open and transparently online as Norway does.

    None of this is actually hard or even that radical; it’s just that too many people don’t want it solved.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      None of this is actually hard or even that radical; it’s just that too many people don’t want it solved.

      Bingo!!!

    • (2) has the interesting side-effect of incentivising re-investment in a company. I like that.

      You’d probably also want to integrate dividends into the PAYE system too, to save time.

      • RedLogix 7.2.1

        Matt,

        Can’t take credit for the idea; it came from my son-in-law during a good discussion we were having a while back. At first I was quite repelled by the idea, but to his credit the little bugger was quite persuasive.

        But you are right, the tax system is pretty broken from the perspective of most SME’s as well. Provisional tax being perhaps the most invidiously stupid tax of all.

        • Draco T Bastard 7.2.1.1

          Provisional tax probably isn’t a silly idea when working on manual accounts especially for large firms. It’s just not so great when we have the technology for real time accounting.

    • Descendant Of Smith 7.3

      As I have posted before just tax at the gross rate and leave business owners and shareholders to worry about expenses and profits. We already tax at gross with gat and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

      This is simple and disincentivises the layering of businesses to reduce tax – which also wastes productivity and effort – and stops rorts such as charging branches for the use of your name e.g. banks. It would stop businesses that make losses being used to offset profits and ensure that tax is paid before profit heads offshore.

  8. gobsmacked 8

    It was a good, clear story on 3 News. The discrepancy between popular perception and reality is huge.

    So who will challenge those perceptions? The media don’t usually, but at least this report did. Doing it once is not enough, but it’s once more than the leader of the opposition.

    Quote …

    I wonder if the Nats’ beneficiary bashing tactics will help, or make things worse? I wonder if the Nats will pursue the big problem, or continue to hound the one which is a fraction of the cost?

    If your opponents buy into your framing, you have won. So why would the Nats change?

  9. Herodotus 9

    Also the problem is the reluctance of the IRD to go to court and to establish where boundaries of avoidance and evasion are. many investigations are “agreed to”.
    The same for case law to backup trading in property. With no court ruling the tax avoiders just pay up and continue business, modified to take into consideration objections by the IRD. With case law then we have tangible data so as how to modify our tax laws so as to stop any major financial arbitrage to allow some to escape paying their”rightful tax”, and legal rulings as to right vs wrong. Unlike as some have mentioned the lack of ability for a PAYE worker to manage their affairs to mim. their tax. Except for property, and in many cases what they have done is tax evasion, pity the IRD and pollys don’t care. Perhaps because they are also actively involved in property speculation.

    • Andrew 9.1

      I think you’re missing the point of just how much it costs both the IRD and the taxpayer to take a case to court. Just to go through the legislated disputes process would cost tens of thousands (corner office accountants aren’t really upto the job of sufficently drafting these documents).

      The cases that you’re referring to are generally the ones in particularly grey areas (thus again increasing the costs of litigating), therefore in the interests of generating the most amount of additional tax revenue over time (which is one of the principles that the IRD operate on), they must look to settle where possible.

      Besides, its obvious how one fixes the mess that is land taxation law in NZ, implement a CGT…

      • Herodotus 9.1.1

        How else do you create certainty into how the laws are interpreted and if changes in legislation are warranted should the court judgements be at variance with what parliament intended ?
        Sure settle in many instances but still take cases to court for rulings IMO the trading in property is a case where this has all to infrequently occurred. Also should the IRD win a case there is the penalty & use of money add ons.
        CGT is not the answer in itself, as the government is dependant to maintain or increase tax revenue streams for property to always go up, and we could be in a situation that govt. policy is established only to fuel increase in property to the detriment of good social policy.

        • RedLogix 9.1.1.1

          As I’ve argued prior I’m happy for a sensible CGT regime to apply to all capital gain income. Including the family home. As Gareth Morgan persuasively argues in the long run CGT’s are useful in that they fairly tax all income from all sources and eliminate structural investment distortion for spurious taxation reasons.

          Just don’t expect a CGT to stop asset price bubbles. Those are driven by uncontrolled growth in bank credit … almost nothing else matters.

  10. ianmac 10

    A decade or so a NZ documentary had a go at this. It seems that there are 10 investigators going after Benefit fraud, for every 1 going after the big money. Cost effective???

    • AsleepWhileWalking 10.1

      Anyone remember the name of the doco?

      • ianmac 10.1.1

        Sorry Asleep. No. Fragments drift through my mind and I remember that I was offended that the little cheats were hunted ruthlessly where the big cheats money-wise seemed to have a good chance of escaping.

  11. http://www.3news.co.nz/Courts-tougher-on-benefit-fraud-than-tax-dodging–study/tabid/1607/articleID/273541/Default.aspx

    Where are the statistics on ‘WHITE COLLAR’ crime?

    Did you know that the ‘three strikes’ legislation does NOT apply to ‘white collar’ crime and ‘white collar’ criminals?

    When it comes to crime – where’s the ‘WAR ON THE ‘WHITE COLLAR’ CRIMINAL RICH?’

    Penny Bright
    ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

    http://www.dodgyjohnhasgone.com

  12. NATIONAL MP FOR AUCKLAND CENTRAL – NIKKI KAYE – PROVIDES SOME INFORMATION ABOUT ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO THE SFO AND SOME STATISTICS ON SFO ‘WHITE COLLAR’ CRIME PROSECUTIONS (May 2011)

    hi penny, not sure whether you saw this announcement last year which allocated an additional 8 million to the SFO to fight white collar crime http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/83m-fight-against-serious-fraud

    beehive.govt.nz – $8.3m for fight against serious fraud
    http://www.beehive.govt.nz
    beehive.govt.nz – The official website of the New Zealand Government
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    Judith Collins19 MAY, 2011
    $8.3m for fight against serious fraud

    The Government has allocated more than $8 million in funding for the Serious Fraud Office over two years to continue the fight against white collar crime, the Minister Responsible for the SFO Judith Collins says.

    “The SFO has an important role to play in maintaining New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place to invest and do business,” Ms Collins says.

    “A total of $8.3 million across 2010/11 and 2011/12 will enable the SFO to undertake an increased number of investigations and prosecutions of serious fraud.”

    In 2010, the SFO opened 27 investigations, including a number of investigations into finance companies.

    The cases investigated during that time had involved losses of more than $1.5 billion, affecting about 115,000 victims – many of whom were investors.

    “The SFO has laid more than 800 charges against 26 peoplein the last 12 months. Several white collar criminals are now behind bars,” Ms Collins says.

    During the past year, the SFO has cleared a backlog of cases, including investigations lasting up to seven years.
    The average length of a case is now six months.
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    Penny Bright Thank you Nikki. In terms of ‘white collar’ crime statistics – do you have, or can you get the figures for charges and successful prosecutions against ‘white collar crime’ taken by the Finance Markets Authority (FMA)?

    Do the Police keep separate statistics for ‘white collar’ crime?

    Is there an overall compilation of statistics for ‘white collar’ crime for all agencies /regulatory bodies that have the statutory authority to prosecute ‘white collar’ criminals?

    My understanding is that the Minister responsible for the SFO is the Minister of Police, and the Minister responsible for the FMA is the Minister for Commerce – so who ‘trumps’ who in the compilation of ‘white collar’ crime statistics – if indeed anyone has that responsibility?

    I appreciate your help Nikki in obtaining this information. Thanks. Penny Bright

    ________________________________________________________________________________

    Penny Bright

    ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

    http://www.dodgyjohnhasgone.com

  13. How can ‘corporate welfare’ fraud be prevented or detected at local government level, if the ‘books’ aren’t open, and full and accurate records are not maintained, showing the ‘devilish detail’ – including the NAMES of the consultants/ contractors; the SCOPE; TERM and VALUE of the contracts?

    A Local Government Official Information Act reply from Auckland Council dated 21 November 2011, from Darryl Griffin, (Auckland Council Manager for Democracy Services), confirms the lack of transparency in the spending of public monies by Auckland Council, in refusing to make available for public scrutiny the ‘devilish detail’ ie: the names, the scope, term and value of 5000 contracts related to 12,500 suppliers contracted to Auckland Council, on the basis that:

    ‘To collate and publish these would be a major exercise logistically and cost-wise’.

    How is this failure to maintain ‘full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice, including the records of any matter that is contracted out to an independent contractor, not a breach of statutory duties arising from the Public Records Act 2005 s.17 (1) ?

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2005/0040/latest/DLM345729.html

    17 Requirement to create and maintain records

    (1) Every public office and local authority must create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice, including the records of any matter that is contracted out to an independent contractor.

    (2) Every public office must maintain in an accessible form, so as to be able to be used for subsequent reference, all public records that are in its control, until their disposal is authorised by or under this Act or required by or under another Act.

    (3) Every local authority must maintain in an accessible form, so as to be able to be used for subsequent reference, all protected records that are in its control, until their disposal is authorised by or under this Act.
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    IS IT TIME FOR NEW ZEALAND TO ESTABLISH A GENUINELY INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION?
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    (Receipt of this ‘Open Letter’ was confirmed on Friday 19 October 2012 by the Sector Manager for Local Government, Office of the Auditor-General)

    OPEN LETTER TO THE OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR-GENERAL

    Under s.18 of the Public Audit Act 2001, we the undersigned request that you please conduct an urgent investigation into the following matters:

    1) The allegedly corrupt ‘conflict of interest’ of the CEO of Auckland Council, Doug McKay, who is also a member of the extremely powerful private lobby group – the Committee for Auckland.

    http://www.committeeforauckland.co.nz/membership/member-organisations

    2) Please investigate how many contracts have been awarded by Auckland Council and/or any of the following Auckland Council Controlled Organisations to member companies of the Committee for Auckland:

    a) Watercare Services Ltd

    b) Auckland Transport

    c) ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Ltd)

    d) ACIL (Auckland Council Investment Ltd)

    e) AWDA (Auckland Waterfront Development Agency Ltd)

    f) RFA (Regional Facilities Auckland)

    g) APL (Auckland Property Ltd)

    3) Please investigate the following potential ‘conflicts of interest’:

    a) The CEO of Watercare Services Ltd, is Committee for Auckland member – Mark Ford.

    b) The Chair of the Board of ATEED – David McConnell, and Deputy Chair Norm Thompson are both members of the Committee For Auckland.

    c) Directors on the Board of ACIL, Pauline Winter and Brian Corban are both members of the Committee for Auckland.

    d) Director Evan Davies and CEO John Dalzell of AWDA, are both members of the Committee for Auckland.

    e) Deputy Chair Dame Jenny Gibbs, and CEO Robert Domm of RFA, are both members of the Committee for Auckland.

    4) Please also investigate the failure of Auckland Council to ensure that CEO Doug McKay carry out his statutory duties under s.42 (2) (e) of the Local Government Act 2002:

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/latest/DLM171859.html

    42 Chief executive

    (2)A chief executive appointed under subsection (1) is responsible to his or her local authority for—

    (c)ensuring that all responsibilities, duties, and powers delegated to him or her or to any person employed by the local authority, or imposed or conferred by an Act, regulation, or bylaw, are properly performed or exercised; and

    (d)ensuring the effective and efficient management of the activities of the local authority; and

    (e)maintaining systems to enable effective planning and accurate reporting of the financial and service performance of the local authority;

    A Local Government Official Information Act reply from Auckland Council dated 21 November 2011, from Darryl Griffin, (Auckland Council Manager for Democracy Services), confirms the lack of transparency in the spending of public monies by Auckland Council, in refusing to make available for public scrutiny the ‘devilish detail’ ie: the names, the scope, term and value of 5000 contracts related to 12,500 suppliers contracted to Auckland Council, on the basis that:

    ‘To collate and publish these would be a major exercise logistically and cost-wise’.

    Further evidence to support this request for an urgent inquiry is:

    A) The LGOIMA reply from Wendy Brandon, General Counsel for Auckland Council, dated 10 February 2012 – re: Committee for Auckland – CE membership.

    B) The LGOIMA reply from Wendy Brandon, General Counsel for Auckland Council, dated 14 March 2012 – re: Register of Interests and contracts.

    ____________________________________________________________________

    Penny Bright
    ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

  14. Ben 14

    I a similar comment on a Gordon Campbell’s piece on this subject.

    Do these statistics hold when only first-time offenders are considered? That is, are the harsher sentences for beneficiaries due to previous run-ins with the law, or doesn’t it matter?

    I’m not suggesting this practice is OK – far from it – but I’m looking for what might be considered a “reason” for the harsher sentences.

  15. aerobubble 15

    A women, who didn’t tell WINZ that her hubby lived with her, was found guilty of welfare fraud.

    So obviously the welfare system pressures couples to split up.

    This is of course illegal except in NZ where the government is never held to account for being anti family.

    Haggling over how much a individual should get, depending on how they live, is costly, its wrong, and if only we had a libertarian party or a anti-tax burden party that would stand up for those on welfare. Because we all know they use the poorest to test their onerous interventionist policies on first.

    But we don’t have such a party, ACT and the Libertarian Party are paid up right wing rich people parties. As NZ children are finding, they have no rights in NZ

    • @ aerobubble

      Yes as I understand it, it is a human rights issue when someone is paid differently due to their marital status. (I guess they either get around this by the “payment” not being wages OR they simply ignore it)

      I agree with you re this issue being costly and wrong.

  16. james 16

    21 trillion hidden in tax havens around the world by the super rich.

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