Kathryn’s Story - Government spends over $100K pursuing beneficiary

Kathryn’s Story records the life of a mother, grieving the death of her son at the hands of an  ex-partner, who is still being hounded for debt repayment by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

For the past fifteen years, Kathryn, now in her fifties and living alone with chronic ill health on a benefit, has been challenging the decision by the MSD that she has to pay back $117,000. She has no assets or savings and cannot afford to pay for fresh food or therapy that would improve her health. Yet the Government wants to take back every cent it says she owes it.

The money comes from the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) Kathryn received over a five-year period in the 1990s. During that time her ex-partner visited her only on weekends, and Kathryn denies this was ever a ‘de facto’ relationship. When she asked her former partner not to return, because she believed he was sexually abusing her children, he dobbed her into the MSD. The court convicted her and sent her to jail, leaving her children homeless and harmed. But MSD still wanted ‘their’ money when she got out.  

Kathryn’s life is one that has been rife with trauma, suffering the effects of violence and sexual abuse from a young age. The central event and great tragedy of her life was the death of of her young son, ruled manslaughter, by a previous partner in 1989.

She lost custody of her children in the wake of the killing, and her primary motivation became getting her children back and keeping them safe. When her partner threatened to come after her again, Kathryn determined to hide herself and her children.

Kathryn’s Story: How the Government spent well over $100,000 and 15 years pursuing a chronically-ill beneficiary mother for a debt she should not have is written by barrister and journalist, Catriona MacLennan, and published by Child Poverty Action Group.

“The Ministry should have supported Kathryn and her children and helped to keep them safe. Instead, it has hounded her and spent well over $100,000 doing so. Nothing seems to have changed since the 2001 Joychild Report found as many as 15,600 mothers on benefits might have been wrongly treated by Work and Income,” says Ms MacLennan.

Though Kathryn has worked throughout her life whenever possible, she has also been on a benefit. Due to a serious work-related injury and multiple health problems she will never be physically able to work again.  

“Kathryn has been treated far more harshly than other people convicted of offences. People who serve jail terms are not usually pursued for the rest of their lives for money they cannot pay. Her harsh treatment is also in marked contrast with the lenient way tax evaders are dealt with.”

The launch of Kathryn’s Story will take place at 10:30am on Friday, July 1 at the Auckland Women’s Centre in Grey Lynn.

The full report Kathryn’s Story: How the Government spent well over $100,000 and 15 years pursuing a chronically-ill beneficiary mother for a debt she should not have is available for download.

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