Work and Income has been slammed for paying for beneficiaries to fly to Australia for work.
The Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, has confirmed the Transition to Work Grant, aimed at helping people get work in New Zealand, has been used to pay for one-way flights to Australia.
"I'm not saying they are acceptable but but I'm saying there might be the odd time where there's extenuating circumstances," Bennett said.
Asked how many times it had happened, Bennett said "Single figures in the last sort of five years from what I can see."
She said whether the practice is inappropriate, "depends on what the extenuating circumstance are."
Asked if the practice is embarrassing for her as Minister, Bennett said: "Well certainly, and to the point where I've escalated all decisions to head office because I don't think that sort of thing should be happening."
Bennett said she was "not going to stand here and make excuses for it. It's not common practice, it's not the policy intent."
Under the Transition to Work Grant a beneficiary can get up to $1500 a year for job interview costs such as "clothing and travel" and "relocation costs".
But the Winz website specifically says recipients should also normally live in New Zealand and intend to stay here.
Labour says the practice is outrageous and is questioning if the Minister has control of her department.
Labour's Social Development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern, said the revelations are "further proof that the Government has no interest in creating work opportunities here".
"John Key campaigned on stopping the flood of Kiwis moving to Australia. Not only has he failed that test - we now have record numbers of New Zealanders heading across the ditch - his Minister of Social Development is facilitating it, with the 'transition to work' grant being used to pay for beneficiaries' passports and flights," Ardern said in a statement.
"Paula Bennett couldn't confirm in the House today just how many
job seekers Work and Income staff might have bought one-way tickets
across the ditch for. However, she 'hoped' it wasn't common
practice," Ardern said.
"Hoping isn't going to change the fact that roughly 6000 people move off the benefit each year to move overseas, some of whom have apparently done so with help from Bennett.
"That makes a lie of the promise to reduce the number of people shifting across the Tasman.
"The 'wave goodbye to your taxes, not your loved ones' slogan
rings pretty hollow when we have a Government that believes
unemployed Kiwis are better off leaving New Zealand because it has
given up on finding work for them.
"Put bluntly we now have a Government that is supporting the export of Kiwis to Australia."
ONE News spoke to beneficiary advocates who were shocked that money from Winz was being spent on flights to Australia. But they did not want to go on camera for fear of losing their jobs.
The Minister says over the last five years there have been more than 500,000 allowances given out.
Work and Income staff are now trawling through those to find out
just how many times taxpayers have paid for flights abroad.