General Benefit Information 

How do I find out whether I can get any benefits or subsidies?

You can use Work and Income's online tool to see what types of benefits and subsidies you may be eligible for, or contact them on 0800 559 009. Alternatively, you can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for help in determining what kinds of financial assistance you may be entitled to.

You may also be eligible for tax credits, depending on your situation. Tax credits are administered by Inland Revenue – you can read our information on tax credits.

If you need help with applying for a benefit, subsidy or tax credit, visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau.  

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How do I apply for a Work and Income benefit?

You can apply online:

  • Work and Income may ask you to book an appointment with them, which you can do online using MyMSD (when you register for MyMSD you’ll need to either use your RealMe account or set up a PIN).
  • You’ll need to bring a number of documents with you for the meeting.
  • If your application is successful your payments will normally start 2-3 weeks from the date of your application.

If you aren’t able to apply online due to lack of Internet access, you can call 0800 559 009 to make an appointment with a case manager, who can talk to you about what you might be eligible for and give you printed application forms to fill out.

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What responsibilities will I have if I receive a Work and Income benefit?

If you receive a benefit there are some obligations you'll need to meet, relating to:
Changes of circumstances
If you receive a benefit you must advise Work and Income (WINZ) if you (or your partner) have a change in:
  • work situation e.g. you start work
  • financial circumstances
  • study e.g. starting or finishing study
  • personal contact details
  • living situation (e.g. your children leave home)

You must also tell Work and Income if you are imprisoned or held on remand, granted an overseas pension, or any other change likely to affect your benefit.

Obligation to seek part- or full-time work, or to do work preparation activities
Some benefits come with an obligation to seek work or do work preparation activities, depending on your situation.

For example:
  • if you are on Jobseeker Support and you are able to work full-time, you’ll be required to actively seek full-time work. If you have a health condition, injury or disability, but are able to work part-time, you'll be required to actively seek part-time work (20 hours per week).
  • if you receive Sole Parent Support then as soon as your youngest child turns three, you will be expected to look for part-time work. This work obligation also applies if you receive an emergency benefit or if your partner receives Jobseeker Support or Supported Living Payments.
Pre-employment drug testing
If there are work obligations associated with your benefit and you are asked by Work and Income to apply for a job which requires a pre-application drug test then:
  • if you fail successive drug tests your benefit could be stopped or (if you have dependent children) reduced by half, for 13 weeks. 
  • if you refuse to apply for the job this counts as failing the drug test 
  • if you refuse to do the drug test this also counts as failing the drug test

This also applies if you are applying for a job-related training course which has a drug test as part of the application process.

It doesn’t apply to people who are known to Work and Income as being dependent on drugs, undergoing or waiting for drug treatment, or taking prescription medication that can cause them to fail a drug test.   

Youth activity obligations
If you receive the Jobseeker Support benefit and your partner is aged 16-18 years, your partner may have youth activity obligations.

For example, if your partner is aged 16-17 years and you have no children, your partner will have an obligation to enrol in a full-time course of secondary or tertiary education, or approved training or work-based learning. If your partner is aged 16-18 years, and you have one or more dependent children, your partner will have an obligation to participate in budgeting and/or parenting programmes when asked by Work and Income. 

There are also obligations associated with receiving Youth Payment and Young Parent Payment.

Overseas travel
Anyone receiving a benefit must tell Work and Income before going overseas for any length of time. Payments will only continue with approval from Work and Income.

Arrest warrants
If you have an arrest warrant it must be cleared (i.e. you go to court so that there is no longer an arrest warrant for you) within 28 days after its issue. If it hasn’t been cleared within this time you’ll receive a letter from Work and Income giving you a further ten days. If it hasn’t been cleared after this time your benefit will be affected.

This also applies to partners of people receiving a benefit, and people receiving New Zealand Superannuation or Veteran’s Benefit.

Obligations relating to dependent children
If you receive a benefit and have dependent children you’ll be expected to:

  • enrol your children aged three to five years in an approved Early Childhood Education programme and ensure they attend; 
  • enrol your children in a school once they reach the age of five or six years, and ensure they attend; 
  • enrol your children with a doctor or medical practice that's part of a Primary Health Organisation
  • keep your Well Child / Tamariki Ora checks current for your children aged under five years.

Different benefits have different obligations. More information about your obligations is on the Work and Income website.

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What will happen if I don’t meet the obligations associated with my benefit?

Not advising Work and Income of changes in your circumstances could result in: 

  • your benefit being reviewed and cancelled 
  • an overpayment of your benefit, which you will have to pay back
  • a penalty of up to three times the value of the overpayment 
  • prosecution

Usually, non-fulfilment of your other benefit obligations will result in your benefit payments being either stopped or (if you have dependent children) reduced by half, for 13 weeks.

If your benefit is one of those listed below, travelling overseas without Work and Income approval could result in your benefit stopping automatically the day after you leave:

  • Jobseeker Support (including Jobseeker Support - Student Hardship) 
  • Sole Parent Support with work obligations or a specific work preparation activity 
  • Supported Living Payment with a specific work preparation activity 
  • Emergency Benefit and Emergency Maintenance Allowance 
  • Youth Payment 
  • Young Parent Payment
  • Partners with youth activity obligations, work obligations or work preparation obligations with activities.

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I can't pay my power bill, and I've used all my Work and Income allowances, where can I go?

If you’re having problems paying your power bill, you should contact your power company as soon as possible. Most power companies have ways to help if you are in this situation. If you can’t resolve the situation with your power company, contact Utilities Disputes, a free and independent dispute resolution service for electricity and gas consumers. They can also help you explain your complaint to the power company.

Vulnerable consumers and power bills
If your difficulties are due to genuine financial hardship then explain this to your power company and tell them that you are a Vulnerable Consumer. All power companies should have a process for dealing with vulnerable consumers to avoid unnecessary disconnection.

Your power company can tell you whether you can save money by changing to a different pricing plan, and they may have a payment plan that better suits your ability to pay. They can also advise you of budgeting or other advice that may help you. If it gets to the point where you are likely to be disconnected, your power company should refer you to Work and Income first.

Medically dependent consumers and power bills
If you are medically dependent on your mains power supply, you need to tell your power company that you are a Medically Dependent Consumer. If your power company knows you are medically dependent, they will not disconnect your power supply even if you have difficulties in paying your bill.

Additional support from Work and Income
You might be able to get some extra financial support from Work and Income. Whether you qualify and the amount you receive will depend on your individual situation:

Temporary Additional Support is a weekly payment which you can apply for to help you meet essential living costs. If this is granted to you, you’ll receive it for up to 13 weeks.

The Special Needs Grant is a payment you can apply for to pay for something essential and urgent when you have no other way of paying for it. It’s also known as a hardship payment, and usually you don’t need to pay it back.

The Recoverable Assistance Payment is to pay for something essential and urgent when you have no other way of paying for it. It must be paid back, but you can do so in instalments

If you’re on a benefit, you could apply for an Advance Payment of Benefit. If granted, Work and Income will pay your power company directly. You’ll need to pay it back, and you can do this in instalments.

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What do I do if I think Work and Income has missed a benefit payment?

If you think Work and Income has missed a benefit payment you will need to contact them (through MyMSD or - if you have no Internet - on 0800 559 009 to discuss this. You will probably need to show proof that the payment has not come through - like a bank statement.

If you have not been keeping in contact with Work and Income as required, they may have cut off your benefit. For example, for some benefits and allowances you need to reapply each year, and for most benefits you need to get approval from Work and Income before you travel overseas. If this is what has caused the problem you will need to talk to Work and Income.

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I received money from Work and Income that I have to pay back – but as I'm on a low income how will I manage it?

If you have a debt to Work and Income (whether it's through having received a Recoverable Assistance grant, Advance of Benefit, benefit overpayment or benefit fraud), Work and Income will work with you on a manageable way to pay them back.

If you owe money to Work and Income and you’re currently a beneficiary, a small amount will be deducted out of your regular payments until the debt is paid. The amount will depend on what you can afford and what your circumstances are. You should let Work and Income know if you are struggling with the reduced income, as they may be able to reduce your repayments.

If you are in paid employment, you can call the Work and Income collections unit and arrange to settle your debt, or to change your repayment plan. You should tell Work and Income if there is any change to your situation, as this can affect how you pay back your debt.

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Will the money I’ve inherited affect my Supported Living benefit?

In general, the main Work and Income benefits (Supported Living, Sole Parent Support, Jobseeker Support) are income tested but not asset tested. Some secondary benefits, such as the Disability Allowance and the Accommodation Supplement, are both income and asset tested.

If your inheritance is in the form of an annuity (an annual fixed sum payment) then this is treated as income and can affect the amount of your main benefit payment or your eligibility for the benefit.

If you have inherited property, or money which is paid to you as a one-off payment, then these are regarded as assets. However, any income generated from those assets (e.g. rent from a house or interest earned from money in the bank) is considered income.

It is worth noting that if you have gifted assets into a trust, then any income you receive from the trust can be included in the income test.

The only way to be sure of how your inheritance will affect your benefit payments is to tell Work and Income of the change in your financial circumstances so that they can work it out for you – in any case you’re required to do this when you are receiving a Work and Income benefit.

More information about how an inheritance might affect a Work and Income benefit is on their website.

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Can I receive ACC payments if I’m on a benefit?

You are covered by ACC if you are injured while on a benefit and ACC may be able to help with  the cost of rehabilitation. However, if you don’t receive income through paid employment you would not be entitled to ACC weekly compensation payments, as these are meant to compensate for loss of income.

If you receive a benefit but also work part time, then you might be entitled to weekly compensation payments for any loss of income as a result of the injury – however your benefit will normally be reduced by the exact amount of your weekly payments, i.e. every $1 you get in ACC payments will result in a $1 reduction in your benefit.

More information about how different types of ACC payments affect your benefit is on the Work and Income website.

It’s slightly different if your ACC claim is made within a couple of years of becoming entitled to New Zealand Superannuation.

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Can I still get my benefit if I don’t have a bank account?

Your benefit has to be paid into a bank account.

If you do not have a bank account and (for some reason) are unable to open one, then you can choose someone you trust to be your "agent" and have your benefit deposited into their bank account. You need to complete a Redirection of Benefit Payment form for this.

To avoid potential confusion over which money is yours and which is theirs, it would be a good idea for your agent to have a bank account which is solely for the purpose of receiving your benefit payments.

More information about opening a bank account, and what to do if you are unable to satisfy the bank's proof of ID requirements, is on our General banking page.

For more information about having someone act on your behalf in your dealings with Work and Income see our Beneficiary Advocacy page.