Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting the basics right

On Monday, the Minister of Social Welfare, Paula Bennett announced that the Ministry for Social Development which she is responsible for, is introducing widespread changes to the way social welfare is administered in New Zealand. Whilst I agree that there are changes necessary, I am concerned that the proposals will miss the mark and affect the wrong people. I am further concerned that she grossly underestimates the true state of the job market. But perhaps the most concerning part is much of the problem with social welfare in this country would not exist if the people handling the cases had undergone proper training and knew what they were talking about. Most do, but as we will see, not all do.

Last year I had a run in with one of the agencies working under the M.S.D. umbrella. In this particular case it was Work and Income New Zealand (W.I.N.Z.), and was the cause of two official complaints. The outcome was that the South Island Manager for W.I.N.Z. agreed to review communication procedures because very basic things such as the Case Manager forgot to hit "send" to electronically transmit my changed details so that I could be notified; they cut my benefit with no prior warning - amazing isn't it the number of problems that would not have occurred if communication had been good. If W.I.N.Z. had told me that they were going to stop my benefit, I would have acted to get the Study Allowance sorted out instead of thinking it would not be a problem. If I had known to contact Studylink and set up a Student Allowance, they would not have gotten the first of two official complaints.

Two weeks and about five meetings later, I had to suddenly apply for an emergency food grant of $200 of which $80 would be loaded on to the card immediately. I went down to ask for emergency assistance and was told despite needing it then to book an appointment and come back in 48 hours. That was the first mistake; the second was to appear quite casual and carefree about a pressing situation and to swap jokes with a passing colleague. He further ignored information from my bank about my EFTPOS account being in overdraft. This led to official complaint number two. It also led to a letter being sent to the Minister of Social Development pointing out bad practises and mentioning I was aware of a number of other cases like it, without going into details. She offloaded this to the South Island Manager.

The primary problems I identified in W.I.N.Z. are:
  1. Bad communication and handling of a case from one manager to the next, leading to unnecessary confusion, frustration and poor outcomes.
  2. Bad communication between W.I.N.Z.and Studylink - possibly non-existential given Studylink's apparent lack of knowledge one day about my situation when I rang them, despite W.I.N.Z. saying that they would talk to Studylink. 
  3. Bad design of the governing legislation in not permitting a grace period between saying a benefit is going to be cutting and actually severing it.
  4. Poor knowledge of services W.I.N.Z. can actually provide - at least one person I know of has said that W.I.N.Z. staff sometimes know less about the services they can provide than their clients.
These are very basic things going wrong. If they are going wrong, can/should we, the people of New Zealand whose taxes fund this, be able to trust the M.S.D. to carry out the proposed reforms?

1 comment:

  1. Agree with your analysis completely. As a contractor to MSD I find on my regular contact with case managers that many of the staff lack complete knowledge of WINZ policy and client entitlements & WINZ procedures/processes. Also they are driven by a system which dictates which type of beneficiary on any particular day/week gets priority. And on top of that there are the case managers actions/responses to the clients needs which are more subjective than proper procedure.