It is a fact that some students will not be working at the end of this semester. Some may even end up on the unemployment benefit. So it is important to learn how to maximise this, particularly if you have finished your studies and are looking for that dream job to avoid winging your way to Australia. However, there are other loop-holes for those intending to be on a benefit temporarily.
So, if you are considering going on a benefit, here’s how to survive. If you are unlucky enough not to have a job (or lucky enough to pick up a part-time job for a few months), go on a benefit. Benefits are low enough as it is, because the Government refuse to give beneficiaries enough for a reasonable standard of living. So they give top-ups, instead. As a beneficiary, you will get a Community Services Card which will give you, among other things, cheaper visits to the doctor – even if you get a job, and go off the benefit, the following week.
You can earn up to $80 a week without having your benefit touched – but it will be abated if you earn between $80 and $350 a week. Your accommodation supplement won’t be touched unless your benefit is suspended.
So, will you get your full and correct entitlement? Wellington Regional Manager Mike Bryant thinks so. When asked whether Case Managers were aware and made sure that clients get full and correct entitlements, he paused – before eventually saying “yes”. He later added, “I would say that most clients are getting their full and correct entitlement.”
However, benefit advocate Stephen Ruth from the People’s Centre wouldn’t agree. His response, when asked if clients were getting correct payments:
Ruth deals with people every day who are not getting their entitlements and has his own views as to why this is the case. “It’s a combination of insufficient training and not being aware of their clients’ circumstances.”
If you are not on a benefit, as a result of earning approximately $400-600 a week, but have significant accommodation costs – perhaps a mortgage – get the accommodation supplement as a non-beneficiary.
If you have had essential maintenance costs in the past year – such as spending $1000 on the house that’s about to fall over – add that on to increase the amount, and put the extra $30 or so each week towards paying your $1000 loan. When your bank balance runs dry (because you’ve paid your speeding ticket, or spent too much going clubbing), you can get financial assistance through Work and Income and – in some cases – you don’t have to pay it back.
Has your old cell phone died? If you are on the unemployment benefit, pay WINZ a visit. Tell them you are looking for work, and they’ll give you a new one (if you haven’t got a landline). You can then use your student card to surf the internet over the holidays. Urgently need to go to the dentist? Make sure your bill is $300 or less, and you can go for free. WINZ will pay it for you if you can’t. If it’s likely to be around $600, pay $10 every four weeks for membership to the People’s Centre and get their dentist to do it for under $300, paid for by WINZ. They’ll give you a root filling for $305. You pay $5, or, as with expensive treatments, get the balance over $300 with a WINZ interest-free loan and pay it back at $10 a week. To do this, you must have less than $892.69 in the bank and earn less than $468.64 a week (if you are single), less than $1487.46 and earn less than $680.66 (if you are partnered). As a People’s Centre member, you can also get cheap massages; doctors’ appointments; counselling; acupuncture and foot and hand care.
If you happen to get a dream temporary job for 9 weeks, paying $2000 a week, don’t cancel your benefit – have it suspended, instead. However, if it is suspended for more than 8 weeks it will automatically be cancelled, with no warning. So, to avoid this happening, just resume your benefit for a day after week 6. Then simply suspend it again, and the 8 week cycle will restart. Voila! You won’t have the hassle of reapplying for the benefit once your job has finished.
Then, when you have finished your job, spend your money quickly.
Buy lots of alcohol. Pay off your credit card. If your power bill is $350, don’t pay it – pay your phone bill instead. That’s because you can apply for a power advance – essentially an interest free loan – from WINZ. And, according to Bryant, they may be able to pay for it even if your name is not on the power bill.
“We look at each individual’s circumstances. If their name is not on the power bill, it makes it more complicated.”
“It doesn’t matter whose name it is,” Ruth admits. “There’s been a High Court Case that has tested that out.” But he acknowledged that even though each person in your flat may be entitled to a proportion of the bill, WINZ will pay the bill in full should an advance be applied for, letting the other flatmates off the hook – even if one is not a student, but a high earner.
If you are in a flat and you can’t pay the bill the following month, have your unemployed student flatmate get the advance. You’ll just have to pay WINZ (or Studylink, if you’re on a Student Allowance) back at about $10 for 35 weeks. However, if you have to choose between paying for power, food, speeding fines or credit cards, what do you do?
You pay your fines. Ruth says you may also want to pay your power bill, and pay more towards your credit card, too. “If you pay your power bill and that means you have insufficient money for food, then you can get a food grant.”
You can get up to $150 each time – even if you are on a Student Allowance – and you don’t have to pay it back. According to benefit advocates, the best time to go to WINZ or Studylink is during the end of the week, as you are more likely to get a larger payment. Your unemployed student flatmate can get a food grant the following week, and the third flatmate can do so the week after that. Good way to stock up. If you still can’t pay your power bill, get an advance from WINZ at the same time.
However, you must have a low bank balance. So pay your credit card off in full beforehand; even pay it off early, if you need to. There are maximum annual limits to advances but Bryant, off the top of his head, wasn’t able to tell me what they were, or even what they were based on. “I wouldn’t like to say whether they were guidelines or legislation – I’ll get back to you on that.”
He never did.
For the record, the limits are guidelines. They have no basis in legislation. That is why WINZ managers have discretion to exceed them, as Bryant explained.
“In certain circumstances, we have the ability to approve payment above the maximum. But Case Managers cannot make payments above the maximum without the approval of the Service Centre Manager.”
But what if the Service Centre Manager fails to approve? “Well, you go to a benefit advocate, and you’ll get your advance,” Ruth says.
What if you get kicked out of your council flat? Easy. You have to find another flat and get an advance for rent and the bond. The Council takes so long to refund bond money that by the time you need it for your next flat, wouldn’t you be able to get a WINZ advance for 2 weeks rent and bond – and pay it back at $10.00 a week with the money you eventually get back from the Council? “That’s possible,” Ruth says. “All you have to do is show that you have an immediate and essential need.”
Need some furniture? Get an advance to pay for some cheap furniture – then, if you don’t want it anymore when you have sufficient funds to buy better stuff, see if you can sell it on TradeMe for more than WINZ paid for it at the Sallies.
So, you’ve just gone on the benefit but have a job interview. You don’t want the job but you could do with the interview practice. Why not get $250 worth of clothes for the interview? You can, and you don’t have to pay it back. Alternatively, get $125 worth of clothes and get the rest either before the next interview or when you start work, as $1500 is the annual maximum.
You’ve found out that you are pregnant. You’re single. Baby is due over the holidays. Go on the Sickness Benefit at the end of the term and then onto the DPB once your child is born. Then apply for the Training Incentive Allowance for next year’s studies, have much of your fees paid for you and stay on the benefit. It’s better than getting a loan for living costs – and the balance of your student fees is paid for with an interest-free student loan. You can get a childcare subsidy from WINZ, and claim a proportion of the balance of your childcare costs back through IRD at the end of the financial year.
And if your head is lacking hair and you look so disfigured that you need a wig, you can apply for that too – provided you need it on cosmetic grounds and the District Health Board can’t meet the costs. While you’re there, you may want to apply for a vasectomy while you are waiting. Vasectomies have to be done while you wait, actually. You can get up to $300 for each, provided the District Health Board can’t meet the full costs.
So: you’ve had your abortion, got your urgent dental treatment, vasectomy, food grant and power advance. You’ve got a degree on the back of a Training Incentive allowance. It’s time to get a job. You’ve got your cell phone and a job interview, along with a work start grant for clothes and other essentials. Work for a mate, and that mate could get a WINZ subsidy up to $16,900 spread throughout the year to pay for your wages. That subsidy will then in turn pay for the employer contributions to your KiwiSaver scheme from April – so then you’ll have enough money to pay your contribution, until you get the job you really want.