A solo mum says without sole child support, she has no choice but to live with her parents. (File photo)
A mother of two says she’s struggling to make ends meet because the sole parent benefit was awarded to her ex-partner – despite them sharing custody 50/50.
She said she’s repeatedly been told by Work and Income staff that the benefit is allocated on a “first come, first served” basis – and because he applied for it first, there is nothing they can do.
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That’s left her paying $80 a month in child support and living with her parents to save rent while her ex receives up to $375 a week in sole parent support.
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It’s a “sickening” system, she said: “It favours one parent over the other and it’s very, very hard for the other one to keep above board.”
Only one parent can claim sole parent support. Where care is split equally, who gets it is supposed to be decided by Work and Income based on who takes greater responsibility for things like buying clothes and doing the school run.
If Work and Income can’t work it out, it’s left up to the parents to decide.
But the mother said that wasn’t what happened when she split from her partner almost five years ago. He started claiming the benefit without her knowing, she said, and she didn’t realise only one of them was entitled to it.
The part-time job she has alongside studying doesn’t bring in much – about $350 a week. She gets $170 a week in family tax credit and in-work tax credit, plus an accommodation supplement of $100. At the moment she’s also receiving $40 a week in temporary additional support to help pay the bills.
“I’m really struggling,” she said.
But she’s been knocked back when she’s asked for other support: “They just tell me that because he’s on the sole parent benefit, I don’t get any assistance.”
It was the same story when she applied recently for the Out of School Care and Recreation (Oscar) subsidy, so she could put her daughters in a holiday programme.
She was told she needed her ex-partner to sign a declaration saying she is the primary parent, despite providing Work and Income with a court order showing care is shared 50/50.
She said her ex-partner would not be willing to sign that over to her because it would impact his benefit.
She also wasn’t able to ask him because they are not on speaking terms, saying there was a history of abuse.
Locked out of holiday childcare, she said her dad was having to take time off to look after her daughters while she works and studies.
Hundreds of South Auckland locals queue from the early hours of the morning for assistance from the Manurewa office of Work and Income. (Video first published March 2020)
Ricardo Menendez-March from Auckland Action Against Poverty, who is also running for election for the Green Party in Maungakiekie, said the current system “creates financial imbalances” between caregivers.
“The benefit system is not structured for co-parenting,” he said.
He said a better system would be to have a “parent benefit” rather than the sole parent benefit, whereby caregivers are allocated adequate income support independently of their relationship status.
Kay Read from the Ministry of Social Development said the ministry understands “the difficulty facing parents under the benefit system where they share the care of children”.
She indicated changes are coming to how shared care arrangements are recognised in the welfare system, saying that as part of the overhaul of the welfare system the ministry will be providing advice to the Minister for Social Development on this.
She said if the client is not happy with Work and Income’s decision, she is entitled to apply for a review.
“This process allows for independent consideration of whether decisions are made in line with the appropriate legislation.”
Where to get help for domestic violence
- Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843 (females only)
- Shine Free call 0508 744 633 between 9am and 11pm (for men and women)
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
- Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
- What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.
- Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email email@example.com, or find online chat and other support options here.
- If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
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