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03.04.2018

HRRT hearing, Winter Energy Payment and more 
Since my last newsletter in February 2018, the hearing on Spousal Provision/Deduction has taken place at the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) in Wellington in March. I attended the hearing on four of the six and half days it took, and as Bert, a very competent and trustworthy co-advocate, was there for five days, including two I could not attend, we only missed the last half day. But even then two pensioner friends were present to demonstrate that there was public interest and nothing would escape our attention.

This hearing has been a display of what we already know, and in so many respects. But still – long before a decision is due in two months or in two years (yes, two years, as it is a complex case and the HRRT has a huge backlog) – it has left us in disbelief what is going on in New Zealand: the fact that the bureaucrats in the government departments are ruling the country and not the elected politicians.

In this case the civil servants in the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) defend the policies, as if was about their own money, and when there is a change of government, as happened last September, they advise the new ministers. These ministers often come in completely ignorant of the laws and policies which suddenly become their responsibility but the bureaucrats remain the same. Therefore it does not matter who is elected, it’s always the same people behind the scenes who remain in charge.

How can this be called democracy if our elected MPs are only puppets on a string?

While in 2007 Cabinet agreed to discontinue the Spousal Provision/Deduction – but Labour didn’t find the needed NZ$ 1.5 million (peanuts!) in the 2008 Budget, MSD now defends it at all cost, labelling it as an essential part of Section 70 and the Direct Deduction Policy. 

Not willing to cut a convenient income stream

They also admitted why: because if the spousal part were discontinued, every other pensioner would question why his overseas pension was still subjected to the deductions and therefore put an annual income stream of currently NZ$ 336 million at risk, robbing more than 90,000 individuals of their earned overseas pensions. (The official number stood at 89,336 in October 2017 but it is higher because MSD statistics only count individuals who receive a few dollars of NZ Super and not those who miss out completely, and those who do not apply at all in the knowledge of the deductions.)

As we all know, Section 70 has become an all-encompassing money grab tool for the New Zealand government in order to reduce the cost of NZ Super, with the spousal deduction at the extreme end of the scale of injustice, disadvantaging 588 couples (as of October 2017). It would cost an estimated NZ$ 2.7 million to stop these spousal deductions.

In order to keep it in place, MSD wastes an incredible amount of money for the administration, review processes, investigators and lawyers – like the one who represented the Attorney General respectively MSD at the HRRT. This QC is an expert on Human Rights, even worked for the Human Rights Commission in the past – but after changing sides, he defended the indefensible, and told the three plaintiffs that their treatment was fair and they only perceived it as unfair. He told them that it was not their money they were losing and that they just didn’t understand why their and the “excess” of their partners’ overseas pensions needed to be deducted from NZ Super dollar-for-dollar.

Not sure about the outcome

While we were hopeful in the early stages of the hearing that the Tribunal would not fall for all this spin, misrepresentation and distortion, we were not sure anymore the longer the hearing went on. We had the impression the Chairman found some merit in the fact that the spousal deduction couples were compared to lifelong New Zealanders, cutting them down to size by merging them into “economic units”, while NZ Super is clearly defined as an individual and not means-tested entitlement.

This creates a world of impoverished immigrant and returning Kiwi couples with much reduced social lives, making one partner financially dependent on the one with the overseas pension. They live beside New Zealand millionaire beneficiaries who receive two full NZ Supers and whose income streams – including KiwiSaver – are not touched at all.

The MSD expert witnesses even said NZ Super was paid to reward pensioners for their contributions to the country, leading to the conclusion that people with overseas pensions – including New Zealanders who are married to the “wrong” person - have not contributed anything to the tax-base and society. The Crown lawyer said NZ Super was “providing a basic standard” and giving “financial assistance”, and they said it was “need-based” – because, of course, Kiwi millionaires NEED financial assistance!

Read my full (and very long) report on the hearing on this page: 
Welcome to the World of Millionaire Beneficiaries
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-fight/hrrt-hearing-march-2018

As said at the start, it can take two years until a decision is made, and given the way the hearing went, it became more than clear that the power has to go back from the bureaucrats to parliamentarians. Only a law change – mentioned by the Chairman several times – can really change things. Therefore you and we have to keep lobbying local MPs, the ministry, embassies, high commissions, consulates and foreign governments.

Praise for diplomats in Wellington and Canberra

I have nothing but praise for some of the diplomats in Wellington (and Canberra) who have started discussing the issue with each other, some even asked me how the hearing went, and a representative of one of the embassies showed up at the hearing. Some embassies still need some encouragement to get into action, e.g. the Dutch embassy, with so many Dutch immigrants living in New Zealand but obviously no voice.

Only the New Zealand Herald at the HRRT hearing

The only media outlet that attended the hearing on several days was the New Zealand Herald. This shows that some of the media are either gagged or just not interested in the injustice existing in this country, as it mostly affects migrants – despite the fact that the Spousal Provision usually disadvantages Kiwis who have never left the country but are in a relationship with a migrant or returning Kiwi.

You find links to the NZ Herald’s reporting in the right margin on the HRRT hearing page, link above, also on the NZ Pension Protest homepage and the Spousal Provision page:
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-fight/hrrt-hearing-march-2018
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-law/spousal-provision

One of the plaintiff’s (Jan McKeogh's) personal story here:
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-victims/zero-dollars-nz-super

MSD deducted children’s US survivors benefit from stepfather’s NZ Super

Just before the hearing I came across an incredible case of money grab when a Kiwi woman contacted me, telling me that her two children’s US survivors benefit (paid after their father’s death) was deducted from her second husband’s and their stepfather’s NZ Super. 

This is really allowed because not only a spouse’s overseas pension can be deducted from someone’s NZ Super but also a dependant’s pension. This case was then published on the NZ Pension Protest website and forwarded to the Office of Human Rights Proceedings (OHRP) which represented the three plaintiffs at the HRRT hearing. The affidavit was presented to the HRRT and discussed. A day or two later we got the news that the deductions were stopped – highly likely because of the publicity.

We heard at the HRRT that the CEO of MSD, currently Brendan Boyle, has the discretion to defer deductions in extreme cases, and was even ordered by the Social Security Appeal Authority to do so in the past. But obviously he doesn’t do it by default, and we wonder why.

I thought it was a great gesture by the children’s mother to go public after the deductions stopped, the story was also published in the NZ Herald, see here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12013179)

It showed that justice in general was important to her and not just her family’s individual case. We need more such brave people who are not intimidated by MSD’s bully tactics. Also thank you for fighting all the way to the HRRT, Jan, Malcolm/Sigrid and Donna/Mike. Even if it will not find a happy ending, it had to be done to expose the distorted thinking of those bureaucrats at MSD and their manipulating politicians of all colours.

A New Zealander who has never left the country…

In the meantime, another incredible case has come to my attention. I use it to counteract the Government’s spin, saying Section 70 is about equality and fairness, saying that no-one should be better off than a New Zealander who has never left the country and has not had the opportunity to earn an overseas pension.

This Kiwi woman has worked as an employee (not a civil servant) for a foreign embassy in Wellington for more than 40 years. She has paid full income tax in New Zealand all this time and had a certain percentage of her wages deducted and paid into the retirement scheme of the overseas country she was working for, giving her entitlement to an employer/employee-funded overseas pension. (In the meantime, for younger employees, this practice has stopped and the employer’s payments are made into KiwiSaver.)

She has never left New Zealand, she has paid for her NZ Super all her life with her income tax and indirect taxes. Still MSD thinks they should deduct her overseas pension from NZ Super. This woman has not received her overseas pension yet due to technical problems, but MSD has already (after a year of thinking about it...) sent her a letter, threatening her with demanding her NZ Super back in monthly instalments, once she receives the first overseas payment! 

We hope she goes public with her case and “encourages” the CEO of MSD this way to defer the deduction of a pension that hasn’t even been paid yet.

Winter Energy Payment

Another scandalous development has been unveiled by one of the pensioners who doesn’t receive any NZ Super due to the deductions of her and her partner’s overseas pensions. Carmel Sepuloni, the new-ish Minister of Social Development, wrote to her that she is not entitled to the Winter Heating Payment (due to start in July) because she does not RECEIVE NZ Super!!! This adds insult to injury. Again, those who need it most get nothing, and millionaires can receive the financial assistance.

I wrote to Sepuloni and others, demanding answers under the Official Information Act, but have only received a reply from Jacinda Ardern’s office. The Prime Minister let me know that “the development of the Government’s Families Package was led by the Minister of Finance with support from officials. The Minister of Energy and Resources and the Minister for Social Development with their officials were involved in the development of the Winter Energy Payment as part of that process. The intent of the policy is to enable superannuitants and beneficiaries to afford the heating they need to keep themselves warm and healthy.” (You see: too many officials = bureaucrats involved.)

Further she had her Chief of Staff write that “the Minister of Social Development is responsible for the implementation of the Winter Energy Payment and any issues with Section 70 of the Social Security Act. The Prime Minister has confidence in her to address those issues in consultation with her officials.”

Clearly the Minister responsible for the implementation did not understand the implications the wording of the policy has and/or her “officials” have given her bad advice. If this is going ahead, it is just another piece of evidence that discrimination is lawful and rife in New Zealand.

If you don’t receive NZ Super due to the deductions and therefore will not be entitled to the Winter Energy Payment, best you let the Minister know about your feelings, or go public. I am hopeful that this issue will be resolved in due course. But perhaps it’s just because I am quite an optimistic person…

A final note

Just a little personal note: I receive a huge amount of emails from current and future Section 70 victims and try to answer them all, despite having a lot of other work to do on Section 70 and with my paid work as a writer. Of course, I also have email and phone discussions with some like-minded people, and need these exchanges to further my knowledge, as you can never know enough if you champion a cause. I also contact others of whom I know that they are experts in certain fields and know more than I.

While I am happy to help where I can, I cannot tutor active pension fighters and proof-read articles and long letters (with the mentioned exceptions of my small group of collaborators). I often send links to relevant pages where you can find everything you need to know because I have written them. I cannot re-write them for the convenience of people who do not like to follow links.

If you write to ministers and ministries, please try to get the facts correct, or you deliver ammunition to them to fire back at you. The NZ Pension Protest homepage is a summary of the most important facts: 
http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home

More relevant details are on the Law page: http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-law

There you find various subpages (by clicking on the triangle in front of “The Law” where you find information about Spousal Provision, Portability, Pension and Travel, and all the inconsistencies under Section 70.

I am always interested in receiving new information, so don’t stop writing to me about developments in your cases or if you don't know where to start.

Best regards...



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