Auditor-General should probe COL payments

The Auditor-General should investigate the nature and scale of cost of living payments the Government has made to supposedly ineligible recipients, and determine whether taxpayer funds have been used without the proper authority of Parliament, National’s Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis says.

“Over the past few days, we have had people around the world contact us saying they have received the cost of living payment, despite being ineligible because they don’t live in New Zealand. They haven’t asked for it and many were embarrassed to receive it.

“Alarmingly, Ministers have been unable to quantify the scale of payments made to ineligible people, with Minister Parker saying they ‘don’t know what they don’t know’.  We do know that some recipients have been out of the country for many years, which suggests potentially hundreds of thousands of expat New Zealanders and former visa-holders could be caught in the mis-payment net.

“This also raises legal questions. The general policy statement for the cost of living legislation defines the eligibility criteria for the payment and says people will only be eligible for it if they are living here and present here for tax purposes.

“The legislation is also explicit that if payments are made to people who are ineligible, they will be required by law to repay it.

“This puts New Zealanders overseas in an invidious position. They didn't ask for this money to go into their account and now they're in a situation where according to the law, they're required to pay it back. Many of them may not even know that payment has been made.

“Revenue Minister David Parker has said he doesn't know what the scale of the problem is and will not try to find out. That shows a total lack of respect for taxpayers who earned this money.

“We will be writing to the Auditor-General today to ask for an investigation to determine the scale of these mis-payments and to determine whether taxpayer funds have been used without the proper authority of Parliament.

“The scale of these issues could be massive. We know that there are a million New Zealanders living overseas. We have had a report of someone who has lived in Dubai for 22 years has got it, and of people who have been living in Australia for many years receiving it.

“It's not good enough for Minister Parker to say he doesn’t need to know the size of the problem. This could involve tens of millions of dollars.

“The worst part of this is that it was entirely foreseeable. The Government was warned there would be a host of problems with the payment, and they went ahead with it anyway.”