The hard life at old age

Elke Kurschus: The end of DDP would make a difference between being able to buy new instead of second-hand clothes.

A lot of fuss for 19.62 dollars a fortnight

By Elke Kurschus

For someone who has lived, worked and paid taxes in New Zealand for nearly 40 years it is hard to believe that such a person should not have deserved a full New Zealand Superannuation. But exactly this is happening to me.

I am not a wealthy person, I did not fall into a bed of roses after arriving here from Germany in 1970, more exactly: from Australia where I had lived for less than two years after leaving my home country. I always had to work hard and keep my money together to make a modest living. I had a child and had to support my small family, so it was impossible to save for my retirement.

But I think I have contributed my bit to the good of the New Zealand tax base and society over an extended period, and have therefore deserved to receive NZ Super at the full rate. But instead, I am penalised for having worked more than 40 years in total because my small contributory pension from my early years in Germany and a tiny pension from Australia are deducted from NZ Super.

For others this might not be a lot of money I am fighting for, but for me it would make a difference between being able to buy a new piece of clothing for a change rather than relying on second-hand merchandise. I could also see a medical practitioner now and then when needed.

The excitement ended up in nothing but frustration

When I started a new life in this beautiful country, I was so excited, it felt like a breeze of fresh air. Since first contacting Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to apply for my old age pension I feel nothing but frustration.

They sent me a form to fill out which I should take to an appointment with a case manager, asking to list all countries from where I would receive a pension. I listed Germany. Another question was in which other countries I had lived and worked. I added Australia. I had no idea that all my other pensions were to be deducted from my New Zealand pension.

The interview with WINZ was quite an ordeal, as I had not been able to give precise dates. (I am not very good with dates.) So the case manager pressed me into entering dates I did not know for sure, perhaps even wrong dates. She also wanted to see my passport from some forty years ago which, of course, I no longer had.

Confusing information from the case manager

I was given a form to apply for Australian pension. When I called my case manager because there was a delay with my NZ Super payment, she said: “Forget about Australia.” Later WINZ's international branch in Wellington insisted that I should not forget about Australia. Instead, they blackmailed me, saying that if I did not fill out the application form for the Australian Age Pension the payment of NZ Super would be stopped. Talk about confusion… So I did as I was told, only to find out that WINZ then lost the application. This was in 2008.

Early in 2010 another such application form arrived in my letterbox. But I really did not want that Australian pension… What for? I would not see a penny of it. But as I rely on NZ Super, I completed the form and dutifully sent it off to Australia directly, so WINZ could not lose it a second time. They granted me the grand sum of AU$ 19.68 per fortnight. Wow! Was that really worth all the fuss?

Australia informed me that any overpayments I had received would be sent to WINZ. Later I received a letter from WINZ, asking me how much I received of backpay and that they would deduct that sum from my NZ pension - as if Australia had not informed them. Perhaps they also lost this document? Hmmmmmm... Just wondering.

The Ministry is seeking legal advice

A review of my pension took place in February 2010. No results until late April 2010, except – according to WINZ – that the Minstry is seeking legal advice.

The report about my case, written by a WINZ official, was huge, due to all the “evidence” they had collected about me and my pensions. But very little was said. They turned and twisted everything in their favour. The “evidence” was collected from the recordings that are standard procedure with Government department conversations. Several of my sometimes cheeky reactions were noted in the report. But it did not contain any of the rudeness I encountered when talking to WINZ Customer Service operators.

I cannot help but thinking that WINZ reviews are nothing but a gimmick to create false hope.

The fight for your right and your pension takes a huge toll. It is very disconcerting, especially if you have seen highs and lows in life. Enough to last a lifetime. I always thought there would be a time when everyone deserves to relax and enjoy.

But give up the fight? Never! I am not a quitter. And if not I, perhaps the next generation will benefit from my fight for justice that, as I now know, I do not fight alone.

(Story written in 2010)

(Last update: Nov. 2021)

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