Pensioner told to repay $11,300 after border restrictions left her stranded

File photo: Getty Images
File photo: Getty Images
A 77-year-old woman who was stuck in Australia because of border restrictions says she feels hurt over her pension being stopped and receiving a demand to repay more than $11,000.

Rae and her Australian partner travelled there last July because he needed surgery, but their flight home to Christchurch was cancelled in December.

Two further flights were cancelled in January, meaning she missed her granddaughter's wedding in February, her great-grandchild's first birthday and a cousin dying.

Rae, who requested her full name not be published, said it was the final straw to find the Ministry of Social Development had stopped her pension and was demanding repayment.

Under current rules, pensioners have their payments stopped after they have been overseas for 26 weeks and after 30 weeks they have to pay the six months of superannuation back.

She wrote three letters and made several phone calls to MSD from Australia and has been trying again since arriving back in New Zealand a week ago.

"They send stuff or papers to my address in Christchurch, although they know my address. I've had two addresses in Australia, and I've got one here in front of me that they asked the same things. I had never even heard of the Integrity Intervention Center.

"I tried to be a responsible New Zealander. I've been the best ambassador to New Zealand in many circumstances and I've travelled very, very widely. And now I'm just appalled, I don't feel welcome in my own country."

She informed MSD of the trip and later explained the delays to her return.

"We were going to get on a plane to come home on the 10th of December and it was just overnight cancelled.

"With the credit from that, we bought tickets for the 17th of January and then for the 20th of January. Of course I missed Christmases, missed birthdays, my cousin died about a week before I would have got home.

"I just feel it was the last straw then to receive a demand - 'your pension is stopped and you owe us $11,000-plus'."

Having struggled to get in touch with MSD and provide what they needed, she believed they needed to have more empathy for older people and those who were already traumatised by not being able to get home.

She is also worried about the scale of the problem and how others are faring.

"I'm not a wealthy person, but I can manage. I've heard of people all over Australia, it's just a joke - they have no income at all. It was just stopped."

The Ministry of Social Development has been approached for comment.

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