Dunedin unemployment beneficiary Gordon Holmes is ploughing
through the latest set of documents in his court case
against Work and Income New Zealand and the Ministry of
Social Development. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Biting the hand that feeds him is a daily struggle for
Dunedin unemployment beneficiary Gordon Holmes, who is
embroiled in a legal dispute with Work and Income New Zealand
(Winz) and the Ministry of Social Development.
Mr Holmes (58) has been awarded $17,000 in damages by the
Human Rights Review Tribunal, to be paid by Winz for twice
breaching the Privacy Act 1993 in respect of Mr Holmes'
requests for personal information. The tribunal also ordered
Winz to undertake a thorough review of its processes.
But its decision, dated August 30, has been appealed by the
social development ministry.
The appeal was first called in the High Court at Dunedin
yesterday, when Justice Graham Lang set a hearing date of
February 7 next year.
Dunedin crown counsel Craig Power appeared for the ministry,
Mr Holmes represented himself and Dunedin lawyer Taryn
Gudmanz appeared for the Office of Human Rights Proceedings,
which wished to be heard in respect of the case. All parties
were given two weeks to file documents for a second court
appearance in Dunedin on November 8, when further deadlines
would be set for the February hearing.
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times outside court, Mr
Holmes said he had "no end of trouble" with Winz since
becoming a beneficiary years ago.
He moved to New Zealand in 1997 from England, where he was a
But just two weeks shy of his 59th birthday, Mr Holmes
doubted he would find work.
His vision was not good and he could not afford glasses.
"I just keep on fighting and they [Winz] don't like it," he
He asked Winz for personal information in August and October
2010, in an effort to understand why his benefit payments had
changed by about $3 a week.
Mr Holmes complained to the Privacy Commissioner, claiming
Winz did not take his requests seriously and did not respond
to him in the time required by the Privacy Act.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal heard Mr Holmes' case last
December and found in his favour, awarding him $17,000 in
damages for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to
It ordered the ministry to review its processes to ensure
full compliance with the Privacy Act and its own objectives
Yesterday, Justice Lang made an order temporarily staying the
review and payment of damages.
He also suggested a lawyer be instructed to provide legal
advice to the court on points of appeal raised by the
ministry, as Mr Holmes planned to represent himself and was
not legally trained.
"I think it's important I have the benefit of legal input
into your side of the case and I have it in mind to appoint a
lawyer. The state would meet that cost," Justice Lang said.
But Mr Homes strongly opposed the suggestion, saying the
court system was supposed to be user-friendly and he did not
need a lawyer.
Justice Lang left the matter for further consideration.