Benefit fraud of $179,000 admitted

A Balclutha couple yesterday admitted benefit fraud which had seen them wrongly paid nearly $180,000 over 23 years.

Leslie Patricia Tataurangi (50) and Perry Hill (57) appeared together before Judge Roy Wade in the Balclutha District Court sitting in Gore, with Tataurangi admitting 20 charges and Hill 19 of benefit fraud, which the Ministry of Social Development said totalled $179,081.01.

The ministry's summary of facts said the offending occurred between March 1, 1989, and February 12 last year.

Inquiries conducted by the ministry established Tataurangi and Perry had been employed by Silver Fern Farms Ltd for less than a year and had been living in a relationship in the nature of marriage from March 1, 1989.

The ministry said the pair were each aware of each other's status as a beneficiary, and failed to inform the ministry they were living together as a couple. Tataurangi had completed several benefit application forms for Work and Income (Winz) and on each had said she was single or did not have a partner.

Hill had done the same. Tataurangi told the ministry she was aware of her obligations but had not advised the ministry of her employment because she needed more money to pay her bills. When asked why she had not advised the ministry of her de facto relationship with Hill, she said the money she received was not enough.

In her interview with ministry staff, she apologised for her selfishness in taking the extra money.

Hill said he was aware of his obligations but had not advised of his employment as the Government was taking tax off him and giving it to the unemployed. He said he did not advise of his de facto relationship because the couple would have got into trouble.

Tataurangi was charged with eight counts of wilfully omitting to tell an officer she was living in a relationship in the nature of marriage or with her partner, one of wilfully omitting to tell an officer she was working and in all cases continued to receive benefits, nine counts of using a document with intent to obtain a pecuniary advantage and two counts of using a document capable of being used to obtain a pecuniary advantage for the purpose of obtaining a pecuniary advantage with intent to defraud.

Hill was charged with 13 counts of wilfully omitting to tell an officer he was living in a relationship in the nature of marriage or with his partner and continuing to receive benefits, one of omitting to tell an officer he was working and continuing to receive benefits, and five counts of using a document with intent to obtain a pecuniary advantage.

Judge Wade convicted the pair, and remanded them on bail to March 4 for sentencing.