The art of evading answers - but positive signs with the new commissioner Jane Wrightson
We keep calling the former Retirement Commission still Retirement Commission because we can barely keep up with their name changes - and particularly because with every name change it has become less clear who they are and what their job is. Funny enough the Retirement Commissioner is still called Retirement Commissioner, and her office is called Office of the Retirement Commissioner. If you want it less understandable again, just call it Te Ara Ahunga Ora.
Jane Wrightson has been appointed as Retirement Commissioner for a three-year term in 2020, and since then she has impressed us with some very reasonable contributions to superannuation policies and issues, as in the process of raising the residency requirement for NZ Super to 20 years in the "(Fair) Residency Amendment Bill".
For example, Jane Wrightson has suggested to delay the start of the phased-in introduction of the 20-year residency requirement for NZ Super by two years, so people can prepare for getting NZ Super later than age 65 if they have moved to New Zealand at advanced age. Also from other comments we have got quite a positive picture of her, as she seems to apply common sense and is trying hard to work her way through difficult issues.
The office has been exisiting since 2001.
Why all these name changes?
In 2011 the Retirement Commission became "The Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income". The Retirement Commissioner remained the Retirement Commissioner. One of those brainy rebranding exercises... Hopefully no public funds were used to invent this.
The next re-naming of the former Retirement Commission took place in late 2014. The organisation became the "Commission for Financial Capability"... The Retirement Commissioner still remained the Retirement Commissioner. The website was renamed - but again lacked any hint that pensioners were its target readers.
Since whenever the Retirement Commission became ... the Retirement Commission again - but as: "Te Ara Ahunga Ora - Retirement Commission".
An autonomous Crown entity
The Retirement Commission is an autonomous Crown entity, set up in 1993. The Retirement Commissioner's role was established under the NZ Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001, and he/she is appointed by the Minister for Social Development and Employment. In 2013 Diane Maxwell became the successor of Diana Crossan, and in February 2020 Jane Wrightson took on the job.
The commission’s statement of intent - and this is from our original website which we launched in 2010 - outlines its main purpose: “The Retirement Commission helps New Zealanders prepare financially for retirement through education, information and promotion.” Under the above-mentioned act, the commission is required to review the retirement income policies implemented by the Government. In 2007, it completed its first three-yearly review; the next was presented to Parliament on 7 December 2010. To be honest, we were positively surprised about it, as then Commissioner Diana Crossan recommended to discontinue the Spousal Provision (which was finally abolished in 2020).
The fact that the Retirement Commission is a quasi-Government organisation suggests that it is not a lobby group whose primary commitment is to the aged, but that it is an extended arm of the Ministry of Social Development. It would not bite the hand that feeds it. Nevertheless, their website is a useful resource for background information, such as booklets and reports, and particularly Jane Wrightson has expressed views that are different from the views of the present Government.
While Diana Crossan was the Retirement Commissioner, we asked her for a statement about the agency's stance on the Direct Deduction Policy. The answer was no answer to our question. See below a few words about the art of avoiding hot topics ("Worthless effort").
Link to the 2019 Retirement Income Policy Review
The next review is due in 2022.
The Retirement Commission recommended to discontinue the Spousal Provision
Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan (who left the job in 2013) recommended changes to New Zealand Superannuation to keep it affordable over the long term and to strengthen the principle of universal individual entitlement.
Crossan said changes were critical to preserve New Zealand Superannuation for the next generation. "We know that there’s a huge number of baby boomer superannuitants coming, and we can’t keep on ignoring this issue until it’s too late", she said.
The primary recommendation was a package of two measures starting in 2020, designed to keep New Zealand Superannuation affordable when baby boomers will make up the majority of superannuitants and the costs of New Zealand Superannuation are accelerating.
- Raise the age of eligibility:
From 2020, begin gradually raising the age of eligibility by
2 months per year, so that it reaches 67 in 2033. In parallel, a transitional means-tested benefit should be introduced for those aged 65 who are unable to financially support themselves.
- Adjust the formula used to calculate the annual increase: From 2020, the rate adjustment should be the mid-point between the percentage increases in the CPI and in average weekly earnings. The real purchasing power of New Zealand Superannuation would still be protected by ensuring that the annual adjustment is never less than the increase in the CPI.
- Strengthen the principle of universal individual entitlement
- Remove specific areas of unfairness in the current system that are all based on a person’s partnership status
1. Remove the non-qualified partner rate:
This would stop people under age 65 or who don't meet the residency test receiving an income-tested New Zealand Superannuation when their partners are superannuitants.
2. Equalise the unpartnered and partnered sharing rates.
3. Abolish the deduction of a person’s foreign pension from their partner’s New Zealand Superannuation when the partner's foreign pension exceeds the value of New Zealand Superannuation.
Diana Crossan said the second set of recommendations was based on the principle of fairness. “New Zealand Super is the entitlement of every qualifying New Zealander regardless of their income or partnership status", she said.
One of "our" pensioners sent us a letter he had written to the Retirement Commission in 2010 and the answer he received. He had investigated in the hope that this seemingly autonomous Crown entity would recommend the abolition of Sections 187-191 (then: Section 70) in its upcoming review. So he simply asked then Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan what her office's position on this issue was. It was another evasive letter from Wellington that didn't even try to give a specific answer to a specific question.
This is the pensioner's letter from late April 2010:
"Dear Ms Crossan,
I am very concerned about the way New Zealand Superannuation is paid, or rather not paid in full or not at all under certain circumstances. In this context I would like to know what the Retirement Commission's position is on Section 70 of the Social Security Act, more specifically on the direct deduction policy of overseas pensions and the spousal provision rule.
The Retirement Commission is currently seeking views on retirement income policy for its 2010 Review to be submitted by the end of this month "under a broad framework of three key standpoints:
The way that Government agencies work together and contribute to effective retirement income policy.
The role of New Zealand's financial services sector in relation to retirement income provision
The future wellbeing of New Zealanders in their retirement years, and what this may mean for their communities, and for local and central government."
Why is the scope of this framework pre-defined, i.e. why does it not seem to allow other aspects that require attention and change towards a more fair and equitable pension system?
In 2008, the spousal provision rule was identified as one of the most glaring injustices and it was recommended to discontinue its practice. However, this particular recommendation was not enacted in legislation.
Are these topics not on the Retirement Commissions agenda? The dissatisfaction and ill will of superannuitants affected by Section 70 will not simply go away just because the issue is not being addressed.
What is the Retirement Commission's opinion on this unfair treatment of superannuitants whose overseas pensions are abated against NZ Super although the two types of pensions are not comparable? (NZ Super is tax-funded whereas most overseas pensions are work-related and contribution-funded and hence paid for by the individual, not an overseas government). What is the Retirement Commissions opinion on the spousal provision practice?
I would appreciate to hear your opinion. [...]"
This is the evasive answer he received in early May 2010 from the Project Manager, not the Commissioner:
"Thank you for your submission. As noted in the terms of reference for the Review the 'Commissioner may exercise her power under the Act to identify and discuss matters relating to retirement income policies that go beyond these terms of reference'. Accordingly, she may choose to address this issue in her Review."
Retirement Commissioner and website
After Diana Crossan stepped down from her role in January 2013 after ten years in office, Diane Maxwell became the new Retirement Commissioner and head of the Commission for Financial Capability on 1 July 2013. The term of office usually is three years but can be extended.
In 2020 Jane Wrighton became the head of the Commission.
The website - as of 23 November 2021 - is: https://retirement.govt.nz/
And it is a very good website which covers a lot of topics that are important for seniors in New Zealand - including "financial capability"...
If you want to contact the Retirement Commissioner and ask her to make recommendations to the Government about the unfairness of the direct deduction of contributory overseas pensions from NZ Super, you can email this address:
Addresses for more specific issues on the website: https://retirement.govt.nz/about/contact-us/
(Last update: 23.11.2021)
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