In a few months’ time the Winter Energy Payment (WEP) will start for beneficiaries and superannuitants. Underpinning this badly-targeted policy are unexamined assumptions about living arrangements.
Superannuitants living on their own get $450 WEP. If they are sharing accommodation with another superannuitant, they still get $450 each, but if ‘married’ they get only a couple rate of $700. Doesn’t that assume some offensive conclusions about bedroom heating arrangements?
Older people who are flatting should be afraid, be very afraid. If Work and Income decides they are as good as ‘married’ they will not only get less WEP, they also get a significantly lower rate of NZ Super. A recent case You can’t be friends with anybody any more’ raises important issues of privacy and the rights of people to be treated as individuals. In this case, two older flatmates were doing the best they could to help and support each other, she, 61 years old, suffering disability and he, 68 years old having triple bypass surgery.
Work and Income decided they were just pretending they were only good friends and their ‘unjustifiable’ advantages of being a couple must be removed. They were told they owed accumulated overpayments of more than $150,000, and they were lucky not to be prosecuted. Now on the much less generous married person rates they face losing their rental and need grants for food.
An appeal to the Benefits review committee was unsuccessful: Auckland flatmates fail to overturn Work and Income ruling that they are lovers, face hefty bill of $150,000
‘Evidence’ obtained in the intrusive investigation included that they had sat next to each other on a plane trip and were processed in the same lane at the airport. Worse the investigator’s reports show they secured statements from “anonymous witnesses who testified that they had seen them coming out of the same bedroom, with the man wearing pyjamas”. For goodness sake what century do we live in!
Now the miserable, in-house appeal process will mean more intrusion and time wasting. If as is likely, the appeal to the Social Security Appeal Authority fails, they can take it further to the High Court. As the few brave souls before them like Kathryn have found, going through the courts will be a daunting and expensive time-wasting exercise, sadly with little chance of success.