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Taranaki Daily News/2

Pensioners fight for fair deal
Taranaki Daily News on 28 August 2008

Little did Pat Connor know that when she married her American oilman she would be sorely penalised on turning 65.

Pat, a New Zealander, and husband John Connor, of New Plymouth, are among an estimated 50,000 over-65s in New Zealand who are ordered by Work and Income to apply for their pensions from their country of birth - no matter how long they might have lived and worked in New Zealand.

As a result, some say they are missing out on schemes they paid into in their home of birth.

Mr and Mrs Connor belong to Taranaki's Multinational Superannuation Council which is one of several lobby groups across New Zealand which are accusing the Government of mistreating superannuitants who have immigrated to New Zealand to live, work and raise their families.

They are frustrated and angry that a Government review, announced two months ago, is proposing to allow New Zealanders living overseas to be paid their superannuation - but continues to ignore the plight of its immigrants.

The retirees have pleaded to politicians for many years to make the payment of their superannuation fair and equitable.

They argue that they have worked in New Zealand, paid their taxes here and that New Zealand should be paying its share of superannuation for the years that they have lived here.

Mr Connor has worked in New Zealand for 40 years - first as an oilman and then in the sterilising department at Taranaki Base Hospital.

But on turning 65, current New Zealand law required him to apply to his country of birth for social security payments.

Mr Connor says that, because of the favourable exchange rate, he used to receive as much as $1200 a month - twice as much as the NZ super for a single man.

But since his wife turned 65, Work and Income pays her the difference between his entitlement and what a New Zealand couple on superannuation would receive.

She is horrified that some months she can be paid as little as $40.

"Work and Income has told us that if John dies, or if we divorce, I would be entitled to the full NZ super," Mrs Connor says.

The fairest way would be to pay them both New Zealand superannuation, they say.

Meanwhile, unfair anomalies in the system mean that Mr Connor is refused any disability payments which other New Zealanders would be entitled to.

In 2004, a key report from the Ministry of Social Development agrees with their stance. It says the current system is both out of date and inequitable. The ministry has urged the Government to simplify the payment of overseas pensions in line with other western countries.

"The dollar for dollar deduction of an overseas pension from a person's New Zealand benefit entitlement is an inexact and often unfair method of sharing social security costs between countries," the report says.

Instead, the payments should be shared in proportion to the length of time a person has lived in the country, the report suggests.

As a result of the haphazard systems that have developed, New Zealand was out of step with the seamless provision of social security adopted in Europe and other western countries, it says.

The MSC have written letters to MPs. They say they receive platitudes, but no action.

Complaints to the Human Rights Commission have been rejected, they say.

The agitation would only continue as other people reach 65 and are forced to fight with the unjust and inequitable system, MSC member Peter Heiloo said. "It's not the money, it's the principle."

Mr Heiloo also finds it unfair that New Zealanders who have super schemes separate from NZ super are allowed to keep them while immigrants can not.

It is estimated that New Zealand is making $185 million each year by creaming off money from the overseas pensions, he said.

One Dutch couple, Gerda and Ronald Lammerts van Bueren of New Plymouth, have recently returned to the Netherlands to live because of their disgust at Work and Income which they allege were taking 10-17% of their private Dutch insurance scheme from them.

Minister for the elderly, Ruth Dyson, replied that the present residence-based system serves most New Zealanders well. The Government had considered the treatment of overseas pensions as part of a recent review, she said.

It found that the overall approach for the treatment of overseas pensions is sound and provides very good protection for older New Zealanders, Ms Dyson said.