New legislation allowing the prosecution of partners or spouses of people convicted of benefit fraud could lead to an increase in intimate partner violence, according to Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP).
The new measure was announced yesterday, and would see a new offence created that targets partners or spouses of beneficiaries convicted of fraud, meaning both parties would be charged, not just the person wrongly collecting the benefit.
"Even if it were worthwhile to prosecute partners of beneficiaries, you also have to look at what the cons are. In this case there is a very real risk of the increase of intimate partner violence," AAAP spokeswoman Sarah Thompson told TV ONE's Breakfast.
But Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows denied this, saying: "In a relationship where family violence exists, that is not a relationship in the nature of marriage and they would not be caught by benefit fraud allegations or wouldn't be prosecuted because of that.
Thompson also says fewer people would take up benefits under the new legislation, even though they are entitled to them.
"If the Government wants to put time and energy and money into something there are other areas in which they could be doing this, rather than just further criminalising beneficiaries," she said.
Six out of seven people who are accused of benefit fraud are innocent, says Thompson.
But Borrows denies any suggestion that the Government is "beneficiary bashing".
"This is about catching criminals. If you are defrauding the public it's the same as defrauding any other organisation, and they will be treated that way, charged under the crimes act where possible, and front in court and be liable for that debt, as so they should".
Relationship fraud is believed to cost the welfare system $20 million each year.