Retirement commissioners have called on the Ministry of Social Development to update its pension policy, given reports that the pandemic had put beneficiaries under emotional and financial stress.
Commissioner Jane Wrightson presented findings on pensioners’ MSD experiences during New Zealand’s border closures from 2020 to 2022.
As a result, MSD has been perceived as “critical or negative” and people believe that MSD has made decisions in advance and has adequate communication with customers and the Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) process. It turned out that he felt that he did not.
Between 1 April 2020 and 31 December 2021, 5,448 New Zealand Super customers had their Superannuation payments suspended or canceled due to their departure from the country.
Unless a waiver is granted by MSD’s Chief Executive Officer, superannuation payments will stop if you are outside the country for 26 weeks.
At 30 weeks, people were required to repay the missing 26 weeks of pensions, equivalent to about $8,000 per person.
However, in 2021, MSD told Stuff that “the end of the travel bubble with Australia, other flight restrictions due to COVID-19, and the difficulty of securing a seat at MIQ will impact anyone who has left NZ within the last 30 weeks. Everything could have been reasonably foreseen before we left,” he said.
Most entries in the Retirement Commission’s report referred to those left behind in the care and support of family members.
“My husband and I traveled to Brisbane, Australia in late April 2021 to support our daughter and grandson who are going through a highly traumatic domestic violence family court lawsuit,” a source said. elaborated in the report.
“I had to wait months for flights to Australia to resume as I had an emergency with my family. I didn’t know how long it would take, but under normal circumstances I would be back home in New Zealand. I was very confident that it would be, ’26 weeks is enough,’ said another.
Mr Wrightson said he could not have expected the border to remain closed for so long during the pandemic.
“Most pensioners experienced significant financial hardship and stress as they navigated their return through crowded online MIQ systems and dealing with MSDs,” she said.
Wrightson was contacted by more than 50 people caught offshore and represented them.
“My and others’ interventions have resulted in some early concessions for superpensioners who traveled during the Tasman bubble. Or those farther afield have had to grapple with inflexible and often unsympathetic appeals procedures to contest repayment demands,” she said.
A key finding was that MSDs were perceived as “inflexible, indecisive, negative, outdated or slow-moving, and lacking ‘humanity’.”
“All I wanted was to be polite and professional. All their emails were abrupt. Plus the whole appeal process seemed very complicated. Simple system. I wish we had,” a source told the investigation.
“I felt like I was being treated like a criminal. I felt like I had been caught. I explained why I was there, but they said I should have known before I left. I didn’t mean to go on vacation! I can.” Prove it, it’s [my Spanish partner] was hospitalized. She couldn’t do anything on her own,” another woman said.
In some cases, the difficulties continued even after the pensioners returned home.
“When I returned home in April, they did not want to reinstate my pension. Of course I complained and they decided to reopen, but I got $20 less every two weeks and I don’t know why,’ said pensioner. said.
“MSD’s decision appears to have been based on an early legal position that adopted an unduly narrow interpretation of the relevant clauses. This was subsequently rigorously applied by MSD staff (e.g. when people said ‘the law is the law’). )”) and the BRC created a strong impression among those we interviewed that it was predetermined,” Wrightson said.
According to MSD statistics for December 2021, 2859 of the 5448 NZ Supers that have been suspended have not yet returned.
He said MSD had already made some changes, but “there is still room for improvement, both legally and operationally.”
Here are her recommendations:
- Set up processes for independent review and testing of legal positions in situations where new circumstances or decisions could have significant adverse effects
- Enable BRC to obtain separate legal advice on controversial issues, including statutory interpretation, rather than simply adopting MSD’s legal position
- MSD has adopted a policy of constructively engaging with alternative legal positions, including legal opinions provided to MSD on behalf of retired commissioners.