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What WINZ want to know

Bureaucratese and omissions

Before being able to pay a pension, WINZ first need to collect a lot of personal information to set up a file for their clients.
Once an application is received, WINZ compare information with Inland Revenue, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Corrections, the New Zealand Customs Service, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Accident Compensation Corporation, Housing New Zealand Corporation, and Immigration New Zealand. WINZ may also pass this information on to the respective equivalent social service agencies in other countries.
People are assigned a client number, their applications are processed by client service staff, and an International Services department is there to establish a client’s individual entitlement if he/she has spent time overseas and might be entitled to an overseas pension. This sounds like a high degree of client and service orientation.

WINZ’s main tool for setting up a client file is the 28-page New Zealand Superannuation Application form. Seemingly straightforward and written in plain English, the form eliminates one common problem, bureaucratese, but poses another one, omission. This, however, only becomes clear to the applicant in hindsight.

Significant importance of the significant other

In addition to the usual personal data WINZ are also interested in an applicant’s periods of overseas residence, any overseas pensions they may receive, and information pertaining to their partner. The partner is of such interest that three pages are dedicated exclusively to him or her even if he/she is not included in the application.

The form remains rather vague why this is so: “We need partner information even if your partner is not being included because it affects your rate of payment.” At this, the information stops. How it affects the applicant’s payment is omitted.

With regard to questions about the applicant’s and his/her partner’s periods of overseas residence, the same pattern occurs: “Periods of overseas residence may affect entitlement to New Zealand Superannuation. This information is required to assess eligibility to (sic!) any overseas benefits and pensions.” At this, the information stops. The fact that overseas pensions will be deducted is omitted. Admittedly, there is a fig-leaf in the form of a telephone number for further information, but it could just as well have been printed in the form.

A question of definition, but no question of deduction

When asking about overseas pensions, the question reads: “Are you receiving a social security pension or pension of a similar nature from the government of a country other than New Zealand?” Whichever way the applicant answers this question, it will have a detrimental effect.

Ticking “yes” means their pension gets confiscated right away. Ticking “no”, because many applicants’ overseas pensions are neither of a similar nature nor paid by the government of another country, is considered by WINZ as an attempt to double-dip or, at best, an honest mistake.
In any case it means the applicant will have to deal even more with International Services, waste a lot of time and often ruin his or her health, only to be told that in the opinion of WINZ the overseas pension is either considered similar or a government pension, and hence gets deducted.

Many pensioners tell stories of feeling alienated at hearing why these questions are being asked and what this means for their entitlement to NZ Super. Many break down at the news. Others tell of being treated in an intimidating or even rude way by WINZ staff, all of which is in stark contrast to WINZ’s self-proclaimed client and service orientation.