Pension and travel
Don't forget to tell WINZ about your excessive travel plans or your NZ Super payments might be stopped!
Travelling for more than 26 weeks and moving to a non-agreement country permanently is not the same! If you want to move between countries in retirement and not being stripped off NZ Super, best you read the page "The Pitfalls of Portability" on this website.
"Trap for the unwary"
Quotes from a pensioner's email to us regarding the 26-weeks issue:
"Most people imagine a year to be from January 1st to December 31st - but not MSD. To make it a little harder for you, they calculate your year from the first date you left New Zealand. So if someone retires in June 2018 and goes off on a 6-week cruise to celebrate, he may think he can go to England for [the first] half of 2019 to stay with relatives. Not so. On his return he will find a threatening letter waiting, and may be forced to pay back all the money he received while away."
The next issue:
"Another annoyance, and a humiliating one, is having to report to some MSD staff member a fraction of your age on your return to New Zealand, bringing passport and boarding passes, just in case we are lying about our dates. Do other sections of the community have to do this? I had imagined this task would be done by MSD staff contacting Customs, but apparently they are too tired to do the checks themselves."
Don't forget to tell Mum and Dad at WINZ ...
For a long time the treatment of pensioners who wished to travel felt like in an escape from a prison camp. And despite positive changes, in certain cases, it still has a touch of it.
Imagine the situation: someone has worked all their life in New Zealand and put money aside for a big overseas trip in retirement, calculating that the NZ Super payments would cover food, accommodation and other expenses, including the cost of your rates and insurances at home during your absence.
Just imagine a pensioner couple buying or hiring a campervan and circumnavigating Australia for a year or going on the ultimate trip to Europe.
Well, if they had not had nice savings their holiday got cut short as WINZ stopped NZ Super payments after 26 weeks. This meant for many: dream over. Back to prison after the little break.
This regime has, fortunately, changed. But the requirements for being able to do what you want after a long life of work are still nothing short of reminding us of the attitude of a police state behind the Iron Curtain.
Proportional NZ Super if you travel for more than 26 weeks
You are now proportionally paid when travelling for more than 26 weeks – if you fill out the travel application form with WINZ, make an appointment with a WINZ office at least six weeks before you travel, and present your passport and flight tickets! (For lifelong New Zealanders this means that they will receive full NZ Super. And for people with overseas pensions higher than NZ Super, who usually do not receive a cent of NZ Super after the deduction, will receive proportional payments!)
No deductions if you travel for more than 26 weeks
The most interesting paragraph is that your overseas pension will not be deducted while you travel (all quotes in quotation marks are from the WINZ website):
“If you receive an overseas pension and you are going to travel through one or more countries for more than 26 weeks, any overseas pension you receive will generally not be taken into account. This is because your payments are calculated according to the amount of time you’ve resided in New Zealand.”
“To make sure we pay you the correct amount, we will send you a ‘client declaration’ form every 6 or 12 months (depending on your circumstances) that you must complete and return to us within 4 weeks or you may find your payments may stop. You still need to let us know every time any of your circumstances change so that we can make sure we are paying you the correct amount.”
So, when travelling for less than 26 weeks…
“If you're already getting New Zealand Superannuation or Veteran’s Pension, your payments can continue as if you were in New Zealand for the first 26 weeks, provided that you return to New Zealand within 30 weeks.”
"If you planned to return to New Zealand within 30 weeks but are unable to, you may be able to be paid for the first 26 weeks of your travel if you were unable to return due to circumstances beyond your control or that you could not have foreseen before you left New Zealand. This can include:
· aircraft breakdowns
· illness/injury to you, your partner or relatives
You may be asked to provide proof of the circumstances which have delayed or prevented your return.
If you don’t return and we don’t hear from you within 30 weeks of leaving New Zealand you may need to pay back all of the money we’ve paid you since you left."
We say: Don’t forget to tell Mum and Dad (= WINZ) where you are going or they will punish you by making you pay back all the pocket money they have promised to give you ;-) What a kindergarden, pensioners reduced to needy beneficiaries who have to beg for food and shelter!
Cold-hearted attitude during COVID-19 crisis
We were rather incensed when we read the first news stories during the COVID-19 pandemic about pensioners being threatened by MSD that they would need to pay back their entire NZ Super payments made during their absence if they could not make it back to New Zealand after 26 weeks. Most had travelled to Australia after the start of the "travel bubble" and were then stuck there when the New Zealand government suspended it due to the increase in Corona cases particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.
You would surely expect a self-proclaimed "government of kindness" to reassure these pensioners that they should not worry when they had never had the intention to stay longer than 26 respectively 30 weeks (which MSD already regard as extreme leniency). But what did MSD do? They told these desperate pensioners that being stuck in Australia wasn't an unforseen event, that it was all their fault for being stuck and that they had to pay the price.
We have also been contacted by a few pensioners stuck in Australia, and another couple in Rarotonga, quite desperate about being without income and suddenly accumulating debt, as they were facing these huge bills from MSD. The MSD staff even kept repeating the payback threats after the media had reported about the case of one couple stuck in Queensland and saying that they would not stop the payments. One pensioner wrote: "When I called International Services in Wellington, the guy almost gleefully said that this was media hype and that nothing had changed." Here is the link to one of the media stories: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/126632241/pensioners-stuck-in-australia-because-of-covid-wont-lose-nz-super-entitlements
In the end there were a lot of emails exchanged, and in the end MSD offered to apply the Portability rules, and this man could receive proportional NZ Super after 26 weeks. The case with the couple stuck in Rarotonga was easier to solve as the NZ High Commissioner could file an application for Portability, as this always exists with the Cook Islands and applications can be made from the Realm countries.
The thing that remains is more than just the unkindness, the lack of empathy and meanness of the government department that is "here to help". It is the question what a pension really is if you can't travel without being scared to lose your entire income if something unforeseen happens and some uncaring bureaucrats blame you for the problems of the world.
And as we have seen a few months later, MSD's cruel attitude had not changed at all. On 2 February 2022 the NZ Herald reported about more pensioners stuck in Australia because they could not return home in time due to New Zealand's MIQ lottery and who were asked to pay thousands of dollars back. Solving a few cases that had been published by the media and granting affected pensioners NZ Super under the Portability rules was really only a public stunt. Welcome to the parallel universe of MSD!
(Last update: 04.02.2022)
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