July 22, 2009

Former teacher admits benefit fraud charges

The former head of Maori studies at Ashburton College has arranged to repay $30,238 she has admitted getting through social welfare fraud.

Name suppression was lifted for 38-year-old Bronwyn Kiri Ta Hana Hokianga when she pleaded guilty to six charges in the Christchurch District Court.

She was remanded on bail for sentencing in Christchurch on September 21.

Judge Jane Farish ordered a pre-sentence report and reports on Hokianga’s suitability for community or home detention.

But she also warned: “The fact that I have remanded you on bail is no indication of any sentence you may receive.”

Hokianga had originally pleaded not guilty last year and was granted name suppression for a remand to a status hearing — a session that is used to arrange a trial before a judge-alone.

That trial had been set down for two days and was due to begin yesterday, but instead the case was transferred to another courtroom where Hokianga pleaded guilty.

The Ministry of Social Development withdrew three charges and Hokianga pleaded guilty to six others: four of dishonestly using a document, one of providing misleading information to obtain a benefit, and one of obtaining by deception.

The ministry’s prosecutor, Richard Williams, said Hokianga reported she had separated from her husband in March 2006 when she applied for a domestic purposes benefit.

Two months later she was also granted an accommodation supplement.

When her benefit entitlement was reviewed in February 2007, she again stated she was not married and was not living in a relationship like marriage.

The benefit continued to be paid.

In July 2007 she got an unsupported child benefit when she said a child had come into her care, and the following month she was granted a child disability allowance.

In November 2007 she stated that she did not have a partner on a transition to work grant application form.

“As a result of information received, inquiries were carried out and it was established that the defendant had not separated from her husband at the time of applying for the domestic purposes benefit on March 6, 2006, and remained living with him as a married couple,” Mr Williams told the court.

She did not tell the ministry of her relationship with her husband and the child she claimed for left her care after six months.

“Attempts to interview the defendant have been made, however she has not taken the opportunity to formally discuss this matter with the ministry,” he said.

He said overpayment of the domestic purposes benefit, unsupported child’s benefit, child disability allowance, and accommodation supplement totalled $30,238.

The ministry did not seek a reparation order from the court. It will recover the money directly from Hokianga. Mr Williams said she had made arrangements to repay the money.