It was “unbelievable” that benefit payments were continuing for a Christchurch grandmother who admitted rorting the welfare system out of nearly a quarter of a million dollars, said a judge as he remanded her for sentence.
Judge Alistair Garland told 62-year-old Jasmine Kasiana Teowai Hudson, of Woolston, that a jail sentence was “inevitable”.
But he granted her bail pending sentence on compassionate grounds, so that she could make arrangements for the seven-year-old grandson she cares for.
The Ministry of Social Development said she received benefit and accommodation supplement overpayments of $246,871 between 2000 and 2015.
Prosecutor Jennifer North said the ministry was recovering part of the overpayment from Hudson from the benefit she was now receiving.
“So the taxpayer is continuing to provide her with benefit? Good gracious,” said Judge Garland.
Miss North explained that the ministry was able to flag people as “high risk clients” but it was unable to simply cut off their payments.
The judge said it was “unbelievable”.
Miss North said the ministry was effectively repaying the debt to itself through the benefit money Hudson was currently receiving.
Defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger said Hudson was under no misapprehension about her circumstances, and she was going to have to make arrangements because of the potential jail term she faced.
“Her children are chaotic,” said Miss Bulger, explaining that Hudson had had the care of a grandson since he was four. He was now aged seven. Her daughter was now two weeks away from giving birth.
She said Hudson may have been entitled to some of the benefits, which may reduce the total – “but not by a huge amount”. She would discuss that with the ministry.
Judge Garland told Hudson: “I would have thought you would have made arrangments for your grandson’s care before now. That was unwise. For compassionate reasons, I am going to grant you bail.”
Hudson will be sentenced on August 25, after admitted one charge of obtaining payments by deception, and 18 charges of dishonestly using ministry documents – review forms where she declared she was single.
Miss North said Hudson had been on various benefits since 1989. She had agreed to tell the ministry of changes in her living situation, such as starting or ending a relationship similar to marriage. She had also applied for the income-related rent scheme available to Housing New Zealand tenants.
In fact, she was living in a relationship with her partner from 2000 to 2015. She repeatedly signed forms stating that she was single. She said no-one was living with her, and her partner was a “friend” or a “boarder”.
She told investigators she knew that she had to tell Work and Income whether she was in a relationship with someone living in her household, and whether she was working. She knew her benefit would probably then be stopped. She said she and her partner did share a bedroom, but not all of the time.
The Ministry of Social Development said it took its responsibilities “very seriously” in administering $23 billion of government spending to provide support to more than a million New Zealanders.
It had a team of about 105 specialist fraud investigators, and an Intelligence Unit that identified emerging fraud risk and trends.
For the financial year ended 2016, it had successfully prosecuted in cases of benefit fraud overpayments totalling $24.1 million. The figure for the previous year was $31.1 million.
“The Ministry works hard to protect the integrity of the system to ensure it remains fair for all New Zealanders,” it said.