Topics: Employment, Housing

Social Services take on workload left by Government Agencies

By Dean Nathan
  • Northland

 The Northland Whangarei branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau is struggling to deal with a surge in public enquiries for social services with key Government Departments having left town leaving families finding it difficult to gain assistance via their service websites.   

Manager Moea Armstrong was conducting interviews today to find more voluntary staff to meet the rising demand for assistance.

"I'm concerned that people are giving up trying to find help.  I know we've had people in cars who have gone around the traps and done everything that they're supposed to do before being on the social housing waiting list and actually prefer to be in their car."

Social worker Nga Kupenga Walker at the 155 Community House says she has seen the problem double in one year, "It seems to be a normal thing that they're declined so they come here and we go down and advocate on their behalf, but that's a lot of mahi to do on top of what we're already trying to do to help the families meet their needs."

The public is being advised to use The Citizens Advice Bureau website as the first point of call because it uses plain English and is always relevant. The public information service says Government agencies are not informing the public of their legal and human rights.

"Absolutely, I think the main thing is people don't know that if you're a beneficiary you can claim six times your weekly amount as an interest-free advance for emergency items. And so people are going to private money lenders and paying huge interest. just to get by."  

The bureau has completed an in-depth report into the high level of workers without employment contracts and its Whangarei branch receives some of the highest numbers of enquiries in New Zealand on this one issue.

"We do have a problem it's a hidden problem and people are vulnerable as new migrants are vulnerable but also just if they've come out of Ngawha and somebodies giving them a job they're not going to say actually we need a contract we need to do this properly. Same as with homelessness.  Boarding houses some of them are in pretty bad nick around the place.  And even Work and Income referring people to some pretty wild places aa certainly not suitable for children."

The Whangarei bureau is particularly keen to take on more Maori volunteers to deal with the proportionate number of enquiries from Maori and Maori families.

"It's huge its constant and the enquiries are getting more complex because the bureaucracy is getting more and more remote.  But even if you are literate it can be very hard to decipher a government website."

Nga Kupenga Walker says, "I think the focus needs to change.  We need to think about families and how things work within a family.  How we want a family to work.  But it can't come from a Government perspective.  It has to come from the whanau."