Privacy Commissioner report shows Govt unlawfully breaching privacy of thousands of beneficiaries – AAAP


A report by the Privacy Commissioner on the Ministry of Social Development’s investigative practices into benefit fraud has found the Government agency to be unjustifiably breaching people’s privacy. The report suggests that the Ministry of Social Development breached The Bill of Rights 1990, unnecessarily collected intimate text messages of beneficiaries, and failed to ask people on the benefit investigated information before seeking it from third parties. Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) met with the Privacy Commissioner office in 2018 to highlight concerns held by the organisation for years. AAAP supports the findings of the report and makes the following demands based on its findings:

–          An apology from Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Chief Executive for Service Delivery Viv Rickard to the thousands of beneficiaries whose privacy was unjustifiably breached.

–          A review of all overpayments established by the Ministry of Social Development following a high-risk benefit fraud investigation in which the Ministry investigators may have breached its Code of Conduct.

–          Legislative changes to ensure that the Social Security Act reflects modern relationships and individualises benefit entitlements, which would stop people on the benefit from being investigated over their relationship status.

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“The Privacy Commissioner report is a sobering picture from years of attacks to people on the benefit by the Ministry in the form of invasive investigations and refusal to update its practices since 2012. It is a shame that it took the Privacy Commissioner for the Ministry of Social Development to act on the concerns raised by advocacy groups for years around its investigative practices. The Ministry of Social Development has a toxic culture, treating the people it is meant to support with contempt and suspicion”, says Ricardo Menendez March.


“Thousands of people each year have been subjected to having their intimate lives meticulously pried upon by the Ministry in order to determine whether they are in a ‘marriage type relationship’. This is the result of legislation which punishes people for being in a relationship by forcing them into financial dependence and does not clearly define what a ‘marriage type relationship’ is, leaving it up to MSD staff to arbitrarily determine.


“The Government was due and failed to review the Ministry’s investigative practices twice in 2015 and 2018, despite ongoing concerns by advocacy groups and the Privacy Commissioner. The failure to review the investigative practices, despite continuous media stories and public concerns from advocacy groups about the damage benefit fraud investigations were causing, speaks to negligence by Government agencies.


“We are calling for an apology by Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Chief Executive for Service Delivery Viv Rickard to the thousands of beneficiaries whose privacy was unjustifiably breached. We are also calling on the Government to review all overpayments established as a result of alleged benefit fraud where a high-risk investigation may have taken place, due to the report’s findings that the Ministry was wrongfully interpreting the law and likely to be breaching the Bill of Rights 1990. The misuse of Section 11 of the Social Security Act meant thousands of beneficiaries a year were put through humiliating investigative interviews where things intimate pictures and text messages were unnecessarily used to try and establish people’s relationship status.


“The report should also be a wake-up call for the Government to amend the Social Security Act and stop punishing people in the welfare system for being in a relationship. Currently the married benefit rate is lower than two individual benefit rates, and people on the benefit in a relationship with someone who earns above a certain threshold are expected to forgo all financial independence as they lose their benefit entitlements.


“The Privacy Commissioner found that most of the investigations by the Ministry of Social Development were initiated due to external tip-offs through a dedicated tip-off line, with most investigations concerning the relationship status of the beneficiary. Auckland Action Against Poverty suggests moving towards individualising benefit entitlements, as suggested by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, to avoid the Government having an excuse to pry into people’s intimate life in the first place.


“The response by the Ministry of Social Development to the Privacy Commissioner’s Report needs to go beyond a mild acceptance of the recommendations by the commissioner and deliver justice for the thousands of people whose privacy was unlawfully breached by the Government.


  1. Vigorous investigation of benefit fraud is the foundation of the public support for the welfare system.

  2. I am not surprised at all by these breaches of privacy. We live in a country where beneficaries are persona non grata. The media builds up a picture of fraudulent, lazy, drug taking, drunk, incompetent solo parents. And the public love it. The government spends as much chasing solo parents for fraud as it does chasing corporate fraud, that must change change.

    • Agreed. The right wing media including the likes of Hosking etc and its brain-washed numb-skull readers love to apply these labels to all beneficiaries when many are nothing of the sort.

      The only thing I disagree with you on is your last comment. I think the government or rather MSD chases single parents more than they do corporate fraud and further, does everything it can through MSD to humiliate those single parents – see Jody Joseph’s comment below. Absolutely appalling.

  3. Well done AAAP!

    What a filthy, sadistic outfit MSD/WINZ have become since governments in the 80s and 90s began to view people seeking assistance as a hostile undeserving group.

    “Tip Offs” are an indication of a nasty “junior Stasi” like culture that has seen beneficiary bashing seemingly become the second most popular sport in NZ. Sure some “tip offs” may be vindictive ex’s, but not thousands of them! No it is because lower paid resent the even the pittance beneficiaries may receive if they can get through the MSD punishment maze.

    The sooner all benefits are individualised, the better. The 1964 Act is so out of kilter with the realities of how people organise their lives in 2019. Full time, stable, employment–gone, nuclear families with one “bread winner”–long gone!

    Ultimately MSD/WINZ should be retired for good, and replaced with Universal payments of some kind, credits, free wifi and public transport, etc. And a side issue is further use by state agencies of third party investigators.

    • Disagree,Tiger Mountain, it’s not the lower paid who resent beneficiaries. It’s the nouveau rich. Poor people are generally very good at looking out for each other, and very kindly to others. In my experience they are also more honest than the monied.

      It’s the Hobson’s Pledge mentality, and that mindset also wants the Treaty abolished, opposes the minimum wage,opposes all benefits, is still crucifying Sue Bradford for trying to stop NZ’s children being beaten up,refers to Helen Clark as childless (!!) and criticises Ardern for allegedly putting her career before her child’s interests. Oops. And they think all Muslims – bar the one in the local coffee shop – are coming to get them.

      They scream like slaughterhouse pigs at their money going to help the undeserving poor and live in very small bubbles, and interestingly, seem oblivious of the boundaries which most of us learn unconsciously as we grow up.

      This is the petty rigid mentality that enables and triggers the MSD’s unacceptable behaviour, and it is often impossible to establish a constructive dialogue with them as they simply lack conventional reference points.

      We are edging more and more towards an Orwellian society, but I don’t recall even in Orwell, the odorous sewer-swimming of some of these MSD voyeuristic excesses.

      Nearly finished!

      The National Party is loaded with no-bodies, and attracts nobodies who think that having a bit of dosh somehow makes them posh, but it can make them look a little pathetic, and their negativity and hatreds suggest that they are probably not very happy chappies or chappesses.

      I don’t know why they beat up on beneficiaries, but it could be because they- not unreasonably – dislike themselves, and need to see shrinks.

  4. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing this morning! MSD breaks the law in ignoring privacy of beneficiaries and NO ONE is held to account?


    Heads must roll. But I forget, this is No Zealander. No one is ever held responsible in positions of power. Only those at the bottom. Like beneficiaries.

    If Ardern doesn’t find out who is responsible for this abomination, she is no better than the National govt that allowed this to happen.

    • @SAMWISE – while they are about it, bother to do something about the spying on people like Nicky Hager etc… who also have their privacy breached, paid for by the taxpayers and covered up by government.

    • Where is the PERSONAL REPONSIBILITY from MSD executives that they demand incessantly from welfare recipients??

      Prepare a very large carpet at MSD national office

      A truckload of bullshit is about to be swept beneath it

    • Why do you think when you sign up for a benefit they want access to your social media. This bullshit above is why.

  5. Not sure about the UBI the benefit system can work pull the benefit got her degree with a TIA same as me i got help so the benefit system can work. But we had a government that allowed all that bullshert to happen national have always been bene bashers while selling all our assets and cutting our social services and then wondering why the fuck people aren’t improving their social status. In the meantime the farmers get all the help in the world despite not following rules with stock, businesses get cheap foreign labour and beneficiaries get the bash same old shit.

  6. On the issue of beneficiaries… a decent article by spinoff about beneficiaries working… apparently they can take home as little as $2 an hour because of punitive benefit abatements etc.

    Fix it now! Like gun laws! Who aint against getting people into work from the lefties to the righties! Obviously expecting people to work at $2 p/h is just as bad the other routs on labour like the immigration ponzi’s…

    Really makes you think that the idea that business can’t get people to work low end jobs in NZ is not exactly true…. they just are expected to work for $2 p/h by the look of it and not taking up the ‘generous’ (sarcasm) offer.

    Government just don’t get it. There are a lot of risks working now because you can be fired or made redundant at the drop of a hat. If you are on a benefit that then leaves you weeks on a stand down and out of pocket on expenses you needed to get to work. The paperwork is huge as well, so not exactly easy if you have literacy issues to get back on the benefit etc… this is how many people drop further down into poverty and dysfunction and homelessness and just think stuff it, and take drugs, do self harm acts etc!

    Everyone should be able to get income up to $500 – $600 p/w in my view before any taxes because that is what you now need to live on and more in places like Auckland. It’s easier to do that than have all these benefits for every occasion from WFF to accomodation supplement.

    Solving poverty ain’t as hard as people think! Allowing NZ citizens a decent income without putting in huge punitive and bureaucratic stoppers, is the first start!!!

    If they did that the government would save money, because at present for every low paid migrant worker and hundreds of thousands are flooding in yearly, we seem to be getting triple the problems, more low cost spouses, more kids who need education, more benefits needed to be paid out, more infrastructure needed, more jails/lawyers etc if it all goes wrong, and then at the same time the taxpayers are supporting the local beneficiaries and all the social care they need, who are not working that job because of abatements, while our government seems happy to pay four times the social costs for a foreign workers and their families to receive welfare here!

    Then the immigration lawyers are lobbying to get the aged migrant parents into NZ for free super, free medical, and free rest home care for the rest of their lives paid for by NZ taxpayers whose own parents and kids are dying or being disabled while getting worse care here!

    What is even worse, the reciprocal countries offer nothing like the same benefits to NZ workers from Australia, China, Phillipines… the only reciprocals arrangements seem to be in Europe in terms of like for like welfare systems for foreign workers, and they are groaning over the strain as well and cutting down!

    Things have to be fair, if you get loads of benefits in places like NZ and Europe for the low waged then more low waged people will be flocking there creating a Ponzi, while the locals welfare gets less and less, housing is strained, crime increases and less care for the local beneficiaries who are most vulnerable , like the disabled and who are the easy political targets…

    Happened in the UK and happening in NZ. And if we get another right wing government into NZ like the Natz, the benefits will be reduced further as more and more people are able to access them, creating unsustainable demand.

    Also the bad working conditions means that many of the migrants are now on ACC… so nothing good is happening from the Ponzi, and more strain on our resources in NZ while enabling neoliberalism.

  7. Reported on the RNZ website today:
    “In one instance, a beneficiary described to us how MSD obtained, from a telecommunications company, an intimate picture shared by that individual with a sexual partner. The photograph was then produced at an interview by MSD investigators seeking an explanation for it.”

  8. Is that Fraud, Theft of information & misuse of personal and private information for pecuniary gain by MSD.

    • Dunno what it is Denny, but it’s sick and it is evil.

      The poor victim could probably make a claim for emotional harm and damage, but most WINZ clients are too totally ground down to summon up and sustain the effort of challenging these utterly despicable creatures.

      The State Services Commissioner should step in here. But will he ?

  9. Wendy Shoebridge committed suicide because MSD said she had claimed $22k she wasnt entitled too. She hadn’t, but they spent $297k on lawyers, ignored a Judge’s court order, so she killed herself. She owed MSD nothing! ffs!

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