Kathryn's Story: Report highlights violence, relationship status and benefit fraud

Image: Pixabay

A recent report has highlighted issues around violence, relationship status and benefit fraud, using the story of a woman being pursued for benefit debt.

Kathryn's story: How the Government spent well over $100,000 and 15 years pursuing a chronically-ill beneficiary mother for a debt she should not have was written by Catriona MacLennan and published by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The report details Kathryn’s experience of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child, intimate partner violence, and the killing of her 20 month old child by her then partner. Kathryn later had a relationship with a man who her children disclosed to her that he was sexually abusing them. Kathryn informed the police and the man was charged but pleaded not guilty; he was acquitted at trial.

The man then contacted Work and Income to say that Kathryn had received a benefit to which she was not entitled. Kathryn maintains that she was no longer in a relationship with him during the period in question and therefore was entitled to the Domestic Purposes Benefit she received. However Kathryn was convicted of benefit fraud and sent to jail in 2001. She spent approximately 6 months in prison, separated from her four children.

Despite the prison term Kathryn served, Work and Income has pursued recovery of the full debt by means of a $20 a week deduction from her benefit. Over the past 15 years, this decision has been subject to protracted and expensive court appeals, with the last hearing to date being in the High Court in 2015. This process is not yet finalised. Kathryn is chronically unwell and receives a Supported Living Payment (previously the Invalid’s Benefit).

In the Preface, CPAG writes, “New Zealand’s social security framework is based on outdated ideas of the nature of relationships and too often fails to protect the needs of children. In CPAG’s report The complexities of relationship in the welfare system and the consequences for children (Dec 2014) we found serious misunderstandings and anomalies in the way mothers with children are treated in the welfare and judicial system. We wrote about the famous Ruka v Department of Social Welfare case on the role of domestic violence in establishing relationship status. We also discussed the learning from that case, and the subsequent evaluation by Barrister Frances Joychild in 1999. We also became aware of many unsettling, highly disturbing stories, including that of Kathryn H.”

CPAG writes, “Kathryn’s story is published in the hope that the story of her earlier life and experiences will provide some insights and a richer picture of the chaos, ill-health and tragedy that afflicts many women who fall foul of the welfare system. CPAG is particularly concerned for the well-being of the children involved in this long complex story, and for others who face similar accusations and demands for financial reparations well beyond what would be reasonably expected.”

CPAG concludes, “CPAG believes there must be a complete review of the treatment of relationships in the welfare system, as the authors argued in the CPAG 2014 report. In the meantime there must be more scrutiny of the process of establishing relationship fraud and reparations. No mother with young children should be sent to prison for relationship fraud. However, if there has been a prison term imposed, that must surely cancel the debt.”

Related information

Related issues concerning social security have been highlighted as the Government rewrites social security legislation.

 

When is MSD going to give up its damaging and arcane views towards sole mothers who repartner? Child Poverty Action Group, 13.10.2017