Policies on "marriage type relationship" fraud

R Gavey made this Official Information request to Ministry of Social Development

Currently waiting for a response from Ministry of Social Development, they must respond promptly and normally no later than (details and exceptions).

From: R Gavey

Dear Ministry of Social Development,

I would like to make a request under the Official Information Act 1982 for information on the Ministry of Social Development’s policies on benefit fraud investigation processes where a line of enquiry was relationship status (or “marriage type relationship” fraud).

More specifically, I would like the following information:

1. Ministry of Social Development’s policies on relationship status
• How does the Ministry of Social Development determine a benefit recipient’s relationship status? Furthermore, how does the Ministry of Social Development determine when a relationship started?
• What are the specific criteria the Ministry of Social Development uses to determine a benefit recipient’s relationship status e.g. living in the same house, financial support, etc?
• Does the Ministry of Social Development use algorithms (artificial intelligence/machine learning) in the process of determining a benefit recipient’s relationship status? If yes, when did the Ministry of Social Development start using such technologies and by whom/how were they designed?
• How does the Ministry of Social Development establish a debt for “marriage type relationship” fraud? Furthermore, how does the Ministry of Social Development determine the amount of debt owed to the Ministry?

2. Ministry of Social Development investigation process
• On what grounds do the Ministry of Social Development decide to initiate an investigation into a benefit recipient's relationship status? What are the common means through which the Ministry receives allegations of “marriage type relationship” fraud?
• Who conducts these investigations and what relevant qualifications do they have?
• How many specialist fraud investigators does the Ministry of Social Development have currently? If possible, provide this number broken down by year from 2000 to 2020.
• What powers do the investigators have when conducting investigations into benefit recipients’ relationship status?
• What sources of (personal) data are the investigators permitted to access?
• What investigation techniques are employed by the Ministry of Social Development when conducting investigations into benefit recipients’ relationship status? Do investigators conduct inquiries with benefit recipients’ neighbours, friends, family members, workmates, employers, children’s schools and acquaintances?
• Are benefit recipients informed when an investigation is initiated?
• What rights and entitlements do benefit recipients have during this investigation process?

3. Ministry of Social Development’s policies on benefit fraud prosecutions
• How does the Ministry of Social Development determine whether to prosecute someone for "marriage type relationship" fraud?
• Who makes this decision within the Ministry?
• The Ministry of Social Development client service manager George Van Ooyen was quoted in a 2020 Stuff article saying that: “The ministry is now focused on prosecuting only the more serious cases of fraud that, for example, occurred over longer periods or involved bigger overpayments.” (see: https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standar...). Does the Ministry of Social Development still agree with this statement?
• Has there been a discernible decision within the Ministry (or direction from the government) to use alternative means (other than prosecution) for more minor cases of benefit fraud/overpayment? If yes, when was this decision made and what are these alternative means (e.g. internal debt recovery)?
• What are the driving considerations in prosecutions e.g. debt recovery, punishment, deterrence, etc?

Any further information in relation to the Ministry of Social Development’s policies for "marriage type relationship" fraud (e.g. briefings, policy documents, staff training materials, etc) would also be appreciated.

Ngā mihi nui,
R Gavey

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From: OIA_Requests (MSD)
Ministry of Social Development

Tēnā koe R Gavey,

Thank you for your email received 7 September 2020, under the Official Information Act 1982. Your request has been forwarded to the appropriate officials at National Office to respond. You can expect a decision as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request was received.
 
Nā mātou noa, nā

Official and Parliamentary Information team   |  Ministerial and Executive Services
Ministry of Social Development

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