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Urgent changes for stranded elderly NZers overseas needed when it comes income support

The Chair of the National Maori Authority, Matthew Tukaki, has asked Social Development, to find an urgent solution for older New Zealanders stuck overseas as a result of COVID19 border closures.

“In all reality many made a mistake by choosing to leave thinking the bubble between, for example, New Zealand and Australia would hold. The truth is Delta dealt a blow that no one saw coming. Also, many left New Zealand thinking they would return but did so under exceptional circumstances such as loved ones and whanau members with terminal illnesses. “ Tukaki said

“What we are seeing is that many are now suffering and that includes those who are finding it tough to get a spot on a plane and into managed isolation. This in turn is creating an immense amount of hardship that is both financial and emotional. Many have put their lives on hold with no certainty of income” Tukaki said

“I have been contacted by a number of those impacted and their whanau members concerned about their status and their ongoing ability to keep up with their costs and payments. In many cases whanau who are stranded only have national superannuation as their sole income stream and many left Aotearoa while the bubble with Australia allowed freedom of movement. They did so because of otherwise exceptional circumstances such as whanau with terminal illness, loved ones who were sick and those who were doing it tough and needed the support of whanau. Also, when I say people have reached out to me I am also suggesting they come from all ethnicities and locations around NZ and now stuck, mostly, in Australia. You will also know that many of those stranded New Zealanders do not qualify for Australia or State Government assistance or support, nor do they have access to the basics if they themselves fall ill. More importantly many of them budgeted to maintain their current households here in Aotearoa while they were away which is putting further pressure on their ability to live. They are effectively living in great stress, not able to fully rely on whanau who are already doing it tough and I worry greatly not just for their financial circumstances but also their mental and primary health.” Tukaki said

“I note the statement released by the Ministry of Social Development to media that says:

"Our ability to pay pensions to New Zealanders outside of the country beyond 26 weeks is only permitted under certain circumstances, as defined in the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001."

"In all reality the ongoing border closures, and the fact they are reviewed only every eight weeks, combined with the ongoing pressures faced by the managed isolation and quarantine system are exceptional circumstances – however, and this is the challenge – what is the way through. Having spoken with State and Federal Agencies in Australia the reality is that the only avenue appears for whanau to apply directly for the Australia Aged Pension (AAP) but that will only kick in if the person concerned meets the age of retirement level in Australia. If they do apply and are rejected that means they would automatically be rejected by New Zealand which at least means it doesn’t create a debt. That though, in itself, doesn’t resolve the problem. Also, I have had conversations with NGO’s who are helping stranded New Zealanders in NSW, Queensland and WA – all of them tell me they themselves are struggling to keep up with local demand.” Tukaki said

“As Work and Income state: “If you get NZ Super or Veteran’s Pension and last left New Zealand before 26 March 2020 and were being covered by the COVID-19 Special Assistance Programme, you may be able to receive a portable pension. Living overseas - If you left New Zealand after 26 March 2020, were continuing to receive NZ Super or Veteran’s Pension and exceed your 30 weeks out of New Zealand you may be required to pay back these payments. Please note: international lockdowns or difficulty securing a space in MIQ are not sufficient reasons for your return to New Zealand to be delayed beyond 30 weeks. If there are other circumstances preventing your return (e.g. you had a serious medical event when away) please contact us to discuss your situation.” “However in those circumstances, and unless I am wrong, the COVID-19 Special Assistance Programme ended on 31 August 2021.”

“One way we can alleviate the pressure and stress on some of our most vulnerable New Zealanders who appear to be caught in no mans land. With the reality of pressure to secure flights and spots in MIQ also daunting and challenging I do think we need to find a work around – even if that could be a temporary amendment to Section 27 of the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Act 2001.” Tukaki said

“Tomorrow I will be holding an online hui with social services and community providers in Australia who work with New Zealanders in distress to find a way of continuing to support whanau who are stuck on the other side of the Tasman – but I feel we still need another solution to what is becoming a challenge.” Tukaki said


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