New Zealanders working low-income jobs or facing potential unemployment should be able to access the financial support they need - but for some people it’s not so easy. 

When it comes to contacting Work and Income (WINZ), a government agency that aims to help New Zealanders get jobs by providing workshops and training, grants and subsidies, and income support, not everyone has access to the internet or a phone. 

And for others there may be time constraints or medical situations that delays them getting help.

Co-ordinator of Tairāwhiti Beneficiary Advocacy Trust Shelly Hannah-Kingi says some people are simply unaware of the support available to them. 

To help people find out what things they’re entitled to and the best ways to approach WINZ, Re: spoke to Hannah-Kingi and another beneficiary advocate, Karen Pattie. 

         1. No matter what the circumstances are, seek help

The number one piece of advice for anyone finding it difficult to afford the rising costs of day-to-day living, no matter what the circumstance, is to seek help. 

Hannah-Kingi says support services are there for people who are afraid to approach WINZ directly.

“Speak out. The longer you leave it, the bigger the issue becomes so turning around and contacting whichever organisation you feel most comfortable dealing with is the best way,” she says.

Organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Law or your local beneficiary advocacy services are the best places to start.

“It doesn't necessarily have to be an advocacy service but community services should know of where somebody can actually go to help you get assistance with food or accommodation, or it could even be budgeting skills or support when speaking with WINZ.”

If a person has a social worker or support worker assisting them, Hannah-Kingi says to ask them to help you apply for your full entitlements. 

“Because that's what the role of social workers and community workers is - to help people sort out the issues they have at that time.”

         2. If you can, apply online to check entitlements

Always check what your full and correct entitlements are and update WINZ if your situation changes. 

“The best way to do this is by applying online via MyMSD,” Hannah-Kingi says. 

MyMSD is an online tool that WINZ uses for clients to check entitlements and access various applications for support. 

This is also where people can input and update their personal details if their situation changes. 

For people who can’t go online, Hannah-Kingi says you can call WINZ - but be prepared to wait up to 90 minutes - or you can request a paper application from one of WINZ’s offices. 

WINZ has an obligation to ensure that people get their full and correct entitlements, Hannah-Kingi says. 

         3. Accommodation costs and affected holiday pay

For anyone applying for assistance, it is important to declare your full accommodation costs.

Hannah-Kingi says, “WINZ should be ensuring that they're checking how much their accommodation costs.”

So if your accommodation costs are already high and you have extra costs on top of that, WINZ will need to know this information to ensure your entitlements are full and correct. It’s also important to communicate with WINZ if you have any medical conditions, Hannah-Kingi says. 

Additionally, Karen Pattie, senior advocate and manager at Beneficiaries Advocacy and Information Service in Tāmaki Makaurau, says something that not a lot of people realise can affect their entitlements or payment date is ‘affected holiday pay’.

“[Affected holiday pay is] counted against people when they apply for a benefit and puts off the grant date. So a lot of people get their holiday pay, spend up and then they think ‘I'll just apply for a benefit’, but WINZ won't pay them until they've used the holiday pay up as a weekly income,” Pattie says. 

         4. Check for Temporary Additional Support

Another level of support that not many people are aware they can access is Temporary Additional Support.

This is a weekly payment that helps anyone who doesn’t have enough money to cover essential living costs which means you don’t necessarily have to be on a benefit to qualify for this.

Pattie says “most people paying rent these days qualify for temporary additional support”.

She says temporary additional support can be applied for by anyone, and reviewed by WINZ every three months, to help cover costs.

“That's on top of accommodation supplements. People qualify for temporary additional support if they're paying a car off or an essential item, and if they're paying high rent - which is normal rent these days.” 

Pattie says 90% of her clients get approved for temporary additional support and usually that support is ongoing.

“But they've got to keep on top of it. They've got to keep reapplying every three months,” she says.

Anyone can check here to see if they qualify for temporary additional support.

          5. Backdating for medical support

People needing medical support may not always be ready to apply straight away.

Pattie says people putting in applications should make sure it’s backdated to the first date of contact. 

“That will ensure they're supported from that date with any assistance that gets approved.”

And for people with conditions diagnosed by a doctor, Pattie says “they can have their medical certificate updated 28 days from the date of contact”.

“There's the medical exemption and there's always a medical backdating for people who have been diagnosed with serious illness, often that's [finances] the last thing on your mind.”

She also wanted to remind people a disability allowance is put in place to help clients meet their medical costs. 

“And it’s important that they get that completed properly by the GP,” she says.

Pattie says it is more than just writing in your GP fees.

“It's transport [costs] to and from GPs. It's medication. It’s lawns and gardens if they’re physically unable [to look after them]. 

“It covers special foods like gluten-free, dairy-free, and celiacs. It can also cover mental health. It’s things like a cell phone to call support workers. 

“There are lots of entitlements under disability allowance that a lot of clients, and to be fair, doctors are not aware of.”

         6. Need dental work? WINZ offers dental grants

From December 1, people can apply for up to $1000 in a 52-week period for immediate and essential dental work. 

This change is part of Budget 2022.

Pattie says: “Thank God it's been increased. Basically, any beneficiary or pensioner is entitled to it.”

But cash assets - things you can easily convert into cash like savings, shares and bonds - and income levels can affect whether you can get assistance and how much you can receive.

“If people don't have any cash assets, they are entitled to apply for a dental grant once a year for emergency dental treatment,” she says.

“If it's above $1000 which is quite often, people can apply for a money advance to pay that off to get the dental work done. That's available to all beneficiaries, and pensioners.”

If you want dental assistance, here are the current income limits: 

If you are:                                               Weekly income before tax is less than

  • Single and 16 to 17 years old                $678.07
  • Single and 18 years old or over             $847.59
  • Couple (with or without children)           $1695.18
  • Sole parent with 1 child                        $1165.44
  • Sole parent with 2 or more children       $1483.29

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