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Significant number of 'errors of fact' in Social Security Appeals Authority decision

D Dahya made this Official Information request to Ministry of Justice

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From: D Dahya

Dear Ministry of Justice,

These questions are a result of an appeals hearing I attended at the Social Security Appeals Authority(SSAA) earlier this year and even though the decision was not in my favour I was more concerned with the significant number of 'errors of fact' contained in the Authority's decision which I consider to be inexplicable points/conclusions made by the Authority which occurred without real discussion or questioning on those points -I see them as very misleading,incorrect and derogatory.

The decision contained a significant amount erroneous detail, of a misleading nature, that it took some time identify,analyse and respond to/correct them, where the due date for lodging an appeal to the high court had lapsed- regardless, the High Court can only address points of law and not errors of fact.

I have sent a letter asking the Authority's chairman to correct these 'errors of fact' over a month ago and I am still waiting for their response.

Although I prefer the matter be reviewed based on the numerous errors and inaccuracies I believe that there is a responsibility to ensure that the detail contained in the Authorities report is reflected correctly, is not misleading in anyway, reflects the Authorities understanding of any verbal submission/information provided during the hearing, and is not designed to be derogatory, but, more importantly, that the Authority has based its decision on this understanding and the correct information.

The SSAA are independent of Ministry of Developement(MSD/WINZ), impartial and objective in matters challenging MSD's decisions.

Regarding an appeal could you clarify the following:

1. What is the process to address 'errors of fact' contained in the Authorities final decision/report?

2. What can be done to address such 'errors of fact'?

3. What is the timeframe in which these errors should be addressed by the Authority (from the time they are notified of it)?

4. Are such errors addressed/corrected prior to decision being published?

5. How long after a hearing is the Authority required to provide their decision?

6. Does the Authority have a responsibility to readdress information(that was considered in their final decision) that MSD had provided knowing to be incorrect, where MSD failed to correct this information at the time the error first occurred and before providing it to the Authority and where the Authority was notified of this error prior to them finalising their decision?

OR what can/should the Authority do in such a case?

The above question refers to the following incident:

- MSD's report to the Authority included the following erroneous detail.

A screenprint of a record on MSD's system listing benefit history and reasons for it being stopped/cancelled- shows that in one particular year my benefit was stopped due to a work test failure (jobseeker failed to continue seeking employment etc) - this entry is incorrect and fails to show that my benefit was cancelled by MSD in error for a period of 8 months during which time we lost the family vehicle due to severe financial hardship (which we were already under) and the increased financial burden fell(as MSD knew it would) on my elderly mother who was in regular work at the time. MSD also knew that by having to increase her hours of work to address the additional financial burden placed on us would result in a rent increase.

The reason for the incorrect work test failure was due to a case manager changing the purpose of the meeting I had with her which was to discuss my job seeking activities where I had presented proof of my recent jobs applications but she then claimed the meeting was to provide income details -and subsequently noted in the system that I had refused to provide the required information.

A subsequent investigation by an advocate revealed that the case manager had changed the purpose of the meeting AFTER the meeting had concluded - where the system records showed the purpose of the meeting was changed from discussing job seeking activities to providing income details.

25 minutes after I physically handed in an appeal application to the SSAA I received a call from MSD advising that they had made a 'mistake' in cancelling my benefit.

Even though MSD had reimbursed me for the period without the unemployment benefit they have, to this day, refused to resolve the matter of the loss of the family vehicle due to the financial hardship they placed on us - due to their error.

MSD has refused to address my letter re-sent to them over 2 months ago on the matter and is currently with the Privacy commission.

MSD have failed to correct their records to reflect their mistake.

Not only is this a significant correction that needs to be made by MSD but so is the reconsideration of this corrected information by the Authority.

- The Authority's decision noted their conclusions on my job seeking activities -even going so far as to indicate there is no reason for me being unemployed - but had not raised this point with me at the hearing, nor was I given the opportunity to refute or explain it yet this is despite the Authority having access to evidence of my job seeking activities within their own organisation's recruitment careers portal profiles which lists all my job applications(and by all other applicants) to the Ministry of Justice in the last 4 years and in some instances questionable reasons were given as to why they were declined.

I have also provided a recent example of a government organisation failing to acknowledge skills/information that met the selection criteria of the job vacancy.

-If the Authority chose not to question an appellant on this point but decided to include their conclusions(assumptions?) on it in their decision, then I am curious as to why they did not refer to evidence they had on hand within their own organisation (ie in the careers portal profile) either before or after the hearing?

7. Does the Authority have access to this information within their own organisation?

8. How are cultural elements of an appeal addressed by the Authority without having cultural representation on the members panel during the hearing?

9. The following question does not relate to this year's hearing.

a, How does the Authority determine whether an appeal is heard on 'papers' ie the Authority makes their decision based on written submissions etc without the parties present at the hearing

9b, Do both parties need to be advised of it or consent to it?

Yours faithfully,

D Dahya

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From: correspondence, official
Ministry of Justice

Dear D Dahya,

Acknowledging Receipt of your Official Information Act request of 2nd of December, regarding 'error of cactis' in Social Security Appeals Authority.

We have passed this on to the relevant business unit and you can expect a response on or before 21/01/2020.

Kind regards,
Taylor

Official Correspondence
Ministry of Justice
[email address] |  04 466 2943
Justice Centre  |  19 Aitken Street  | DX Box SX 10088
Wellington  | New Zealand |  justice.govt.nz

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