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Partners of welfare fraudsters targeted

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Latest Political News | Wednesday February 20 2013 12:51

Partners of welfare fraudsters targeted

Partners of welfare cheats face the possibility of up to a year to in jail if it can be proven they knew, or possibly knew, about the fraud.

A range of measures have been announced by Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows aimed at clamping down on beneficiary fraud.

He says it's a relatively minor issue, but fraud is fraud and people can't be allowed to get away it.

A new offence is to be created targeting the partners of beneficiaries who are convicted of fraud, meaning both parties will be punished.

Relationship offending alone cost $20 million last year and makes up one third of welfare fraud.

Mr Borrows says it means dads who go along for the ride won't get away with it.

"It's been really unfair that they're always dealing with a woman who has low income, low ability to pay, and yet the debt hangs over her head forever.

"Meanwhile, the bloke gets away scot free."

Last year 714 people were convicted of ripping off the system.

Authorities will also be able to investigate people suspected of committing welfare fraud, without telling them first.

Until now, a code of conduct meant beneficiaries had to be told as soon as the Social Development Ministry became suspicious.

Mr Borrows says at the moment, the system simply isn't working.

"It generally slowed up investigations by about 25 days, and it meant that evidence was destroyed and wasn't obtainable to investigators."

But Labour MP Jacinda Ardern says there's a double standard between the way the Government's treating beneficiary fraudsters and tax cheats.

She says less than one percent of benefits paid out are fraudulently obtained while there are $1.2 billion in tax discrepancies identified by IRD.

And Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei says benefit fraud makes up a tiny proportion of the welfare budget so it does seem to be a strange priority for the Government.

She says the Government has an aggressive attitude towards beneficiaries and their families.

There'll also be a closer eye kept on beneficiaries who've previously lied to the Ministry, and more information sharing between departments.

Photo / Ed Swift

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