Self-help Law

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How to apply for a social welfare benefit

Who do I apply to?

For information about whether you qualify for a benefit and how to apply for one, you should contact Work and Income to arrange a time for an interview. To contact them you can either visit your local Work and Income office, or phone them on their freephone number, 0800 559 009.

If you think you qualify for a benefit you should contact Work and Income as soon as possible, as they usually cannot backdate benefits to before the date on which you apply.

What documents will I have to bring when I apply?

When you go to your interview with Work and Income, you'll have to produce some or all of the following documents and information:

  • two forms of identification
  • a bank book or bank statement to show your bank account number
  • your Inland Revenue number
  • proof of your last pay and your income over the last 26 weeks
  • proof of any assets that could earn income
  • details of your work qualifications (such as training certificates and references from employers)
  • original birth certificates of any children who are living with and dependent on you
  • proof of the rent you're paying or, if you own your own home, of your mortgage payments and other costs, so that you can apply for an Accommodation Supplement
  • a doctor's certificate if you're applying for a Sickness Benefit
  • your spouse's or partner's details, if you're married or in a civil union or de facto relationship

Work and Income will tell you before your interview exactly what documents you'll have to bring with you.

What types of benefit are available?

  • Unemployment Benefit- To qualify for this benefit you must:
  •  
    • not be in full-time work, but be available for and willing to undertake it (or be on a work-related course approved by Work and Income, such as a Training Opportunities course), and
    • have taken reasonable steps to find full-time work, and
    • be at least 18 (unless you're 16 or 17, and live with a spouse or partner and have dependent children), and
    • have lived in New Zealand for at least two years
  • Sickness Benefit- To qualify for this benefit you must:
  •  
    • not be in full-time work, but be willing to undertake it, and
    • be limited in your capacity to seek, undertake or be available for full-time work because of sickness, injury or disability, and
    • be at least 18 (unless you're 16 or 17, and live with a spouse or partner and have dependent children), and
    • have lived in New Zealand for at least two years
  • Superannuation-
  •  
    • The qualifying age is currently 65 years.
    • You must also have spent 10 years in New Zealand since you turned 20, or five years since your turned 50.
  • Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB)– To qualify for the DPB you must come within one of the following three categories:
  •  
    • You must be at least 18 (or be 16 or 17, and be married or in a civil union), must be caring for one or more dependent children, must not be living with a spouse or partner, and must not be being maintained by a spouse or partner; or
    • You must be a woman aged 50 or over who is living alone (and you must meet certain other criteria); or
    • You must be caring for a sick or elderly person (not your spouse) in your home.
  • Invalid's Benefit– To qualify for this benefit you must:
  •  
    • be either (1) totally blind; or (2) unable to regularly work 15 hours or more a week because of a sickness, injury or disability that's expected to last at least two years, and
    • be at least 16, and
    • meet special residence qualifications
  • Independent Youth Benefit– To qualify for this benefit you must meet all of the following conditions:
  •  
    • You must be 16 or 17.
    • You must either be unemployed and looking for work, or be a full-time student at high school or on a work-related course (such as Training Opportunities or Youth Training), or have a limited capacity to work because of a sickness, injury or disability.
    • It must be unreasonable to expect you to be financially dependent on your parents or others.
    • You must have no dependent children.
    • You must have lived in New Zealand for at least two years.
  • Supplementary assistance - You may also qualify for additional assistance to supplement your wages or benefit, such as:
  •  
    • an Accommodation Supplement
    • childcare subsidies
    • Family Support
    • funeral grants

Report any changed circumstances to Work and Income

Once you're receiving a benefit you must let Work and Income know about any changes in your life that could affect your benefit - for example, getting married or entering a civil union or de facto relationship, or having or adopting children.

How can I challenge a decision made by Work and Income?

You should start by talking to your Case Manager at Work and Income if you're unhappy about a decision - for example if Work and Income have turned down your application for a benefit or suspended your benefit for a period.

If that doesn't solve the problem, you can apply in writing to Work and Income for a formal "administrative review" of the decision. The review will be carried out by a Work and Income supervisor. If the supervisor thinks the decision was correct, your case will go to a Benefit Review Committee, which will consist of two senior Work and Income staff and an outside person appointed by the Government. The Committee will hold an informal hearing, and you'll be able to attend this hearing and put your case. You can take a support person with you (this may be a lawyer). After the hearing (usually about five weeks later), the Benefit Review Committee will send you a letter, telling you of its decision.

If the Committee's decision goes against you, you can appeal to the Social Security Appeal Authority, which is independent of Work and Income. You usually have three months to appeal. You should write to:

  • Social Security Appeal Authority
    Ministry of Justice
    PO Box 5027
    Wellington

The Authority will hold a hearing, which will be held in Wellington. Work and Income will pay for your travel and accommodation costs in attending the hearing. At the hearing you can have a representative if you wish, such as a lawyer. Legal Aid is available for you to hire a lawyer: see How to obtain civil legal aid. The Authority will notify you of its decision, usually about a month after the hearing. You can appeal the Authority's decision to the High Court if you think the Authority made a mistake about the law when it decided your case.

Cautionary notes
  • Work and Income has the legal right to enquire into your private life and is entitled to ask questions of people such as your neighbours. See also "How to deal with being investigated for benefit fraud".
  • There is a possibility that your application will be postponed for a period. You can appeal these postponements: see above, "How can I challenge a decision made by Work and Income?".

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