The latest statistics on dobbing in highlighted by Radio NZ this week should send a shudder down the spines of every thinking person in New Zealand.
In the year to March 2017, there were over 11,000 calls made to a dedicated hotline for people to anonymously accuse beneficiaries of benefit fraud. These resulted in nearly 6000 benefit fraud investigations, with over 3000 regarding allegations of the beneficiary being in a “relationship in the nature of marriage”.
MSD spend about $50m a year on its investigations into over-payments and fraud. For 6000 investigations—this is about $8500 each on average.
When a full investigation is mounted as it was in the 3000 cases for so called ‘relationship fraud’ it is not just very costly but also incredibly intrusive for the vulnerable families affected
Menacingly the website says:
What happens if you don’t tell us
It’s against the law to not tell us if your relationship status has changed. This could result in you and your partner getting a fine, having a debt you both have to pay back, being prosecuted or imprisoned.
Many if not most of these 3000 investigations for so called ‘relationship fraud” come from disgruntled ex-partners.
These angry people, often with molestation or trespass orders, are given instructions on MSD’s website as to how to dob in and they do not have to reveal any connection with the victim.
WINZ says “You can remain anonymous and we’ll do everything we can to protect your privacy.” But the privacy of the person who is snooped on is of no concern apparently. They are not entitled to know who dobbed them in and the fraud unit can discuss the complaint with other people without their knowing or permission.
The website encourages this appalling practice so it appears those who do the dobbing in are being helpful. The more information they provide the more they are being helpful.
So what would Work and Income to know? It’s all there:
- the full name of the person who you think is committing benefit fraud
- any other names they are known by
- their address and phone number
- their age and date of birth
- what sex they are
- the type of benefit you think they’re getting
- the type of benefit fraud you think they’ve committed
- any other information about them such as their previous address or car registration.
- the full name of their partner and any other names they’re known by
- their partner’s age and date of birth
- their partner’s address
- whether their partner works and who employs them
- why you think that they’re a couple
- how long they’ve been in a relationship
- whether they have had children together
- the names and ages of any children they have.
Being in a new relationship for a sole parent is not black and white. The website lists some things to consider if you are trying to work it out such as
- you live together at the same address most of the time
- you live separately but stay overnight at each other’s place a few nights a week
- you share responsibilities, eg bringing up children (if any)
- you socialise and holiday together
- you share money, bank accounts or credit cards
- you share household bills.
- you have a sexual relationship
- people think of you as a couple
- you give each other emotional support and companionship
- your partner would be willing to support you financially if you couldn’t support yourself.
How many of these must apply? For how long? It is no wonder sole parents are terrified to begin new relationships even when that could be the best thing for their future and for their children. The threat of loss of income and autonomy is very real. How many are told pay us what you owe or we will prosecute and maybe send you to jail? Where is the fair Appeals process?
There are not enough checks and balances for this policy to continue. Dobbing in does not sit well with the kinder more inclusive society our PM is promoting. Indeed it has overtones of the kind fascism that our forebears fought against. At very least, anonymity for those who dob in must be removed but preferably the hotline should be closed immediately and the benefit fraud unit scaled down to deal with the handful of real fraud cases only.