Benefits crackdown over arrest warrants

A tough new policy cracking down on beneficiaries with unresolved arrest warrants has resulted in the issuing of thousands of alerts, with more than 100 in the South.

Figures released under the Official Information Act reveal more than 5500 beneficiaries were issued with warrant-for-arrest notifications between July 2013 and September last year.

The policy was implemented as part of the welfare reform changes on July 15, 2013, with people with outstanding arrest warrants no longer able to receive a benefit.

It was estimated of the about 15,000 people subject to an arrest warrant, more than half of them - about 8200 - were on benefits.

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times show 2242 beneficiaries in the Auckland metro area had warrants out for them.

That was followed by Northland (634), Waikato (480) and the Bay of Plenty (405).

While it was unclear from the information released how many people had their benefits cut, the Southern region - Otago and Southland - recorded 101 arrest notifications.

Work and Income deputy chief executive Debbie Power said the Government was committed to stopping the benefits of people who had not resolved their warrant to arrest.

Police, due to the high volumes involved, are unable to follow up on all unresolved warrants.

She said the policy was not designed to save costs, but ''assists in clearing outstanding arrest warrants for people who continually refuse to acknowledge or resolve them''.

The Ministry of Social Development was unable to provide information on the cost saving of the policy.

Following the policy announcement, then social development minister Paula Bennett told the ODT the administration costs of the policy were ''minimal at around $139,000 a year''.

''But there are benefits to the justice system, as this will address the problem of people not turning up to court appearances and creating costly delays.''

Acting Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew said ''the policy is working as intended''.

''Taxpayers shouldn't be funding people to actively avoid the police. The intention has always been about making sure people front up to their legal obligations.''


The process

What happens when people on benefits have warrants for arrest:

• Courts issue arrest warrants.

• Police follow up on all issued warrants.

• Warrants can be resolved at any courthouse.

• Justice Ministry advises Ministry of Social Development of warrants not cleared within 28 days.

• People with unresolved warrants have 10 working days to contact Justice Ministry to clear warrant; otherwise benefit payments can be stopped.

• No more than half of benefit payable will be stopped for people with dependent children.

• For couples, payment will be stopped for person with outstanding warrant; remaining portion still paid to spouse or partner.


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